Screen Time As a Resource For Sanity
COVID-19 has changed so much about parenting. It is so much harder to keep kids active without playdates and open playground equipment. Activities are restricted to whatever living space is available.
I was very anti-TV before all of this happened. The only time I was OK with screen time was when I needed to get my younger daughter to sleep. This often wasn’t possible with her 15-month-older sister demanding attention or becoming a flight risk.
But now, we are crammed into our 900sq foot house while we work on our not toddler-friendly backyard. This has forced me to become a little more flexible and creative with our time.
My husband is the girls’ favorite climbing thing. The limited space is even more difficult when my husband occasionally works from home.
I want my girls to keep learning even when I can’t be hands-on with them and when independent play just isn’t happening and I need to get some work done.
Yes, it would be great if I could give them constant attention. I would love to come up with activities for them to do independently every day, all the time. But really, it doesn’t always happen like that. Activities I find on Pinterest often take longer to set up than the actual time my kids spend doing the activities.
Nursery rhyme shows catch my kids’ short attention spans better than any other type of show. Netflix has all kinds of children’s shows that immediately hook my girls and turns them into quiet little zombies. I hate the idea of my children zoning out to a television screen.
How to change screen time from zombie time to learning time
I am determined to change this. I want to be able to clean, cook, or work without having the girls becoming screen zombies.
I want them to continue to learn and move but without the need for me to watch their every move or constantly participate.
I need them to be engaged for more than 5 minutes so I have a chance of getting things done.
And very importantly, I don’t want to have to create a mess to clean the ones we already have.
Many activities aren’t worth the effort they take to set up. Permanent toys are expensive and the girls forget about them after a couple of months. Or they get dunked in water. Torn. Just plain gross after the 5th time pretending to eat oatmeal.
Screen Time Doesn’t Have to Be Passive Time
All those nursery rhyme shows intrigue my girls. The girls still sing all the songs when they are turned off.
This gave me a plan. If they are so engaged in their screen time, why not use it to get them to do the things that are good for them? Such as exercising, learning, and eating vegetables.
I made crafts. Crafts that can be printed out as many times as we need. Cheap crafts that can be made at home. They can be ruined. They can be changed.
I also developed strategies to get the girls involved in the music and the stories.
Do you need some time to get work done? Need a break from your energetic toddlers? Below are some tips for getting your children engaged and be active with their screen time.
I’ve included some interactive PRINTABLES to engage children with their screen time at the bottom of this post. It’s no longer a passive activity but something they can learn from and exercise with.
How To Get Your Toddlers ENGAGED BUT ACTIVE at Screen Time
1. Play shows or movies that have lots of music.
The music instantly hooks many children into watching the screen. Studies have shown children develop important language skills when they sing along to their favorite songs,
Children memorize and use words faster and more easily when they sing to a beat and in repetition. Do you learn everything by seeing or hearing it once? I don’t, and I imagine not many people do.
If something is repeated, it gives a child a chance to create connections. Kids create an association if that word is repeated and they can see it. They are more able to remember how to use that word because they know what it does or what it means. If that word is repeated and they can touch it, they create an association with that touch.
For example, fire. When a child sees it they can relate the word, fire, with those flames. Next, if they hear fire again and touch it, they understand how the fire made them feel and are much more likely to remember it. Hopefully, once they’ve touched the fire they won’t be trying to taste it 🙂 But that’s the gist. Children will be much more likely to understand and remember repeated words that have been linked to each of their senses.
The great thing about reading and some screen time is it gives children a chance to put the words in the context of images which can further their retention of the words and show them how to use them. If they see how a character reacts to something associated with the repeated word, it gives them an idea of how they interact with that word.
2. Dance with them a couple of times.
I know you’re busy, but if you get involved in their TV time every once in a while, they’ll remember how much fun it was and continue the tradition when you need to be doing other things.
You can also dance for a few minutes and then encourage them to do it on their own by quietly resuming your own activity in the same room.
An important part of dancing is spatial awareness: understanding how we interact with our environment safely. Dancing helps kids develop this! As they dance they learn more about their environment and how to judge how close they are to things. When toddlers are first learning to be mobile this is hugely important!
Do your toddlers EVER sit still? I know mine don’t. So giving them an outlet such as dancing allows them to get their energy out which has been shown to improve their mood and behavior.
Dancing provides all kinds of benefits for children and adults. It’s a form of exercise that provides all the benefits as other forms such as running and weightlifting. It improves cardiovascular health, balance, strength, flexibility, posture, and more!
3. Develop a dance routine– come up with moves you do every time a particular beat comes up.
If certain notes work with it, run in a circle. Throw in a couple jumping jacks during a particularly upbeat section. Lay down if there’s a mellow/sleepy part, and jump back up when the song picks up again. Slowly sway to sweet ballads. Do some squats when the beat is heavy. Whatever you like! Just put as much action into dancing as possible, the kids will love it!
When your child repeats actions while dancing, it stimulates their brain! It challenges their brain and teaches it important memory skills. The challenge comes from remembering the sequence of the routine and how to do each move. Have you ever heard of brain exercises or brain teasers? That’s what you’re providing for your children when you introduce a dance routine. How cool is that?
If you want help with a routine, use this printable Dance Pad (COMING SOON) to create it. This gives your child a tool to see the steps and remember them.
4. Play the songs after the TV is off.
Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Your child is training her mouth and brain to form words when she repeats those words over and over. She’s not just trying to drive you crazy.
Speaking is not fully developed when we are born. We have to train ourselves to be able to use specific sounds at specific times to form language. Our mouths have to form the correct muscles.
Learning all the songs by heart when the screen is off expands the number of words children are repeating to better train their mouths and brains.
5. Encourage your children to imitate the characters.
If you’re watching a show or movie with breaks in between the music, encourage your kids to pretend they’re with the characters. Run with the characters when they run, walk when they’re on a journey, bounce as if you were on a horse… stimulate their already active imagination!
This encourages your child’s pretend and imaginary play. These critical forms of play have been shown to help with social skills, language skills, independence, and confidence.
6. Use Props
Do you have a toy that looks like it could go with the show? Pull it out and watch the kids animate it. This further encourages pretend play.
Designate different interactive baskets for different shows or movies. If your toddler is anything like mine, they probably love watching the same things OVER AND OVER so having their baskets ready for each movie can help them get into character when their favorite scene comes up.
Print out the interactive printables below and play along. Depending on your kids’ age, they may need some encouragement to get the printables out. If you show them the first time, they’ll be able to figure it out on their own the next time or a few times after that.
Be sure to store the props in the same place every time so your children can find them without your help. Build that independence, woo!
Printables for Screen Time
My girls LOVE THESE PRINTABLES, and I love to see them singing, dancing, and acting out their favorite scenes even when the TV has been turned off!
My older daughter was showing signs of a minor speech delay, but now, getting involved in singing and acting out her favorite show has helped her pronunciation and word use! Not to mention she suddenly eats peas and put cans in the recycling :).
I have a screen-time basket in our living room for screen time. When we turn on their nursery rhyme shows, the girls run to the basket, pull out the interactive printables, and sing along.
Their interactive basket makes transitioning from TV Time to Play Time much easier because they still have the printables and can continue to play using their own imagination.
Not to mention, I get time to work or just sip my tea while they wear themselves out.
Printables Optimized for At-Home Printing
I made sure that all these printables and templates can be printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper so you don’t have to go anywhere to print them–perfect for lockdown.
However, if you can get out, I do recommend your local FedEx, their laser printers make the colors and lines of these pop!
The materials for these printable craft templates are low cost and easy to make. And the best part: you can customize them to be whatever you want so the kids can participate in making them too!
Use them for everyday TV Time, or (if we ever get out of isolation) these are great favors and activities at a CoComelon themed birthday party!
Click the pictures below to go to the printable pages.
The Dinosaur Heads are a little more challenging to make. These make great Halloween and Party Costumes! They even look fabulous with matching face masks 🙂 Or if you want added protection, there’s room for face shields too.
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