Like all of us, I'm concerned about how much time our children spend on screen-related activities. I believe we should greatly limit the amount of time our under fives spend with screens. However, I think most parents would agree there needs to be a balance in ALL our children's lives -- so there's time for free play, singing, physical activity, talking and listening, education, daydreaming, creating, building and… some time for screen-related entertainment too.
Some parents have told me that they've banned their school-aged kids from any screens -- TV, Internet, i-devices -- because they want their kids to become readers and focus on achieving good results at school. Frankly, I think that's shortsighted. I believe children who are read to from when they're babes -- who've been sung to, chanted with, talked with, and played games with -- will grow up to love reading and achieve good results. However, I believe that not only do those kids still have time in their lives for some screen-related activity; screens can actually contribute to kids becoming readers.
1. Even avid readers need to find great books. The Internet can help. If we show our children how to find book reviews and publisher websites, they can discover new and exciting reading material. Does your local library have a catalogue online? Demonstrate its use to your kids and how to reserve books for the future.
2. If your kids resist reading but love TV, turn on subtitles. They might complain at first, but pretty soon they'll become used to them. The subtitles give young readers the visual reinforcement of words they're listening to.
3. YouTube (for ages 13+) has lots of videos, sadly many of them with inappropriate comments for kids. Such comments are an important teaching moment where we can explain how we feel about such nastiness! That's why I always advocate adult supervision when children use the Internet. But YouTube has content that can help readers, too. Use the search box to find videos like book trailers, simple songs with the lyrics on the screen, and videos on subjects of interest that you can tie in to books as well. For example, if your reader is fascinated by construction machinery, he might enjoy watching videos you find and that will help him connect to books on the same subject.
4. While I love print books, there are times an e-book is wonderful too. Some children might prefer to read via a screen. E-books are reading too! By allowing our kids to experiment with reading in digital format we're not just helping them make reading choices, but showing them that screen time can mean reading. If you have the choice of your kids playing a computer game during screen time or reading a digital book, what would you pick?
5. When Mom, Dad, or Grandpa are far away for work or other circumstances, screens mean a story can still be shared with a child. Video chat programs like Skype or video/audio recordings allow us to communicate with a loved youngster via a screen. Is it as good as having a child cuddled on your lap while you read aloud? No. But it's way better than nothing.
6. I am not a big fan of expensive materials that offer to turn our youngsters into reading geniuses. But there are some websites that have received my tick of approval. Take a look at my Gallery of Websites that Help Make Reading Fun. You might also like 5 Apps to Raise a Reader.
Do you limit your children's time spent with screens? How do you achieve a balance? Let us know on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page.