April 2010 saw the world as we know it change. The hand held device was introduced. A device no one really thought we would use and yet a few years later we cannot imagine a life without it. Adults and our children are glued to the screen and we have to ask if they going to pay the price for it later? Apps are cheap and easily to come by. Developers like to let us believe that there are major benefits in letting our toddler or young baby play with a hand held device. Yet there are no long term studies that can help us out here, common sense should prevail.
A two year old that can find all his apps, open them and sit and play for an hour at a time is a toddler that has spent many an hour perfecting his skills on the device. A toddler in his developmental years should be moving around as much as possible. Jumping, climbing, running and strengthening his big muscles so that he can gain control over the small muscles for writing, reading etc. later on. It stands to reason that if he is spending hours on a device he is not getting the basics into place and this could lead to learning problems later.
We know that obesity is on the increase and this in turn leads to early onset of puberty as weight is a contributing factor in hormone release. We are seeing eight and nine year olds having to cope with puberty. Is this what we want for our children? Aggression, confrontational behaviour and a lack of responsibility are complaints we hear about in our teens. Could this be due to excessive screen time and the content they are watching?
Parents are attached to their device constantly checking and re-checking emails, messages, Facebook. Are we neglecting to check in on our children? If you are not setting an example for them while they are toddlers it’s going to be too late when they are teens. I urge parents to pay attention when their toddlers talk, be in the moment, be engaged in what he is doing, don’t pretend to be listening. They know and soon they will stop engaging.
So let’s be realistic here we all have at least one TV in our home, most families have cell phones and or hand held devices. We are not going to get away from it. So how do we incorporate this into our lives without harming our children’s development? The number one thing to do is to limit the time spent on watching TV or playing on a device. Use these as rewards for rainy days, times when you need 10 minutes to do something but it shouldn’t be the first thing you gravitate to as a babysitter. Record your child’s favourite programmes. Toddlers love to watch something over and over. Use the recorded programme or DVD as a book. Stop it and interact with your child. Turn it into an active session. Send them to go and look for something green if that was what was on the programme. Talk about what the characters did.
If they are playing on a device with a counting app pause and go and count something that they can touch, smell, taste, like apples. The more senses you involve in the learning experience the more learning takes place. Their natural instinct is to discover and go on adventures. Often this doesn’t last past the toddler years. Once formal education begins the hands on approach is often replaced by hands off. Start at home with simple things. Teach them to classify. How are things the same? How are they different? Look at everyday items with new eyes. Collect pictures of transport and group them according to the number of wheels. Look at the fruit bowl. Which fruit can I eat just like this and which ones do I have to peel? Collect leaves and look at them closely. Some are big, some small, some have many veins and some only a few. If you have earthworms in the garden dig some up and have a closer look at them. Plant a small vegetable patch or herb garden. You only need a very small patch for your toddler to keep control of. If using herbs involve him in cutting them when you need them for cooking.
Collect some balls and have him sort them from small to large. Once he has the hang of this let him sort from large to small. This is a harder skill. Look at heavy and light. Let him experience heavy by filling a soft drink bottle with water. Have one that’s empty so he can experience the feeling of lightness. Get into the habit of looking through the window each morning and commenting on the weather. Becoming weather savvy will help your toddler become more sensible when dressing and it’s something that’s done every day at Pre School. Fill and empty containers, collect things that sink and float. Make ice together and watch it melt on a sunny day.
Remember that free unstructured play is important, don’t always gravitate to electronic media. We have a world out there waiting to be
Written by Liz Victor – late CEO of Toptots Early Learning SA