Aug 19, 2020

Screen Time in a Technological World

Child colouring on tablet at nursery

During this day and age, and especially over the lockdown period, we find ourselves extremely grateful for advanced technologies that allow us to stay connected to family and friends and continue to have ‘virtual’ relationships.

The media have reported a massive surge in the use of technologies that increase screen time which is a concern for some parents. Coupled with endless offers to subscribe to new tv channels, movie streaming services, Disney+ and other children’s entertainment 24/7; not to mention the increased pressure some families are facing trying to balance working from home with childcare challenges during the current global crisis; it’s natural to rely on this as an almost digital babysitter and forget the potential negative effects this can have on our children. But what really is the reality of this increase in screen time? And what problems could it incur for the younger generations?

Research has suggested that in an ever-increasing technological world, parents feel it to be important to have technology. We are told that it enhances learning and opportunity, aiding academic success and future employment success. However, parents also express concern about the impact of media on their children, particularly in relation to physical development. This impact is easily seen when limitations and timings are placed on use of technology. It can cause a battle and a struggle to remove the devices, leading to the inner debate of, what’s easier?

Impacts of screen exposure on brain development are still relatively unresearched and is limited when correlating information on length of time of exposure on the developing brain. What we do know, however, is that babies do not absorb TV content, although it may catch and hold their attention. By the age of 22-24 months, children can understand the content, but may not identify the 2D learning with that of real 3D objects, for example, the difference of the screen versus real life.

This is in stark contrast to the intensity of learning through face-face interactions, learning here increases rapidly. In contrast, TV/screen time from 2 years old that is of high quality, i.e. specifically designed for children and is age appropriate, can have benefits that work towards early childhood developmental goals, with research suggesting this can support early language and literacy skills. Furthermore, there is evidence that interactive ‘learn-to-read’ apps and e-books can build early literacy skills by providing practice with letters, phonics and word recognition.

It is important, however, to consider that screens may help with language learning when they are used collaboratively with a parent or carer. Children 3 years and above learn best when considering skills needed for expressive vocabulary terms from in the moment, live, meaningful interactions.

So, how do you strike the balance?

Remember, interaction and talking through actual play is essential in early childhood development and can never be replaced purely by technology. These top tips from the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) may help you to consider when trying to strike a balance.

  • Think about your own technology use. Simple phrases such as “Stop, Drop and Talk” and “There is no app to replace your lap” can help remind you that technology can restrict interactions.
  • Take lots of photographs. People, places and things children have done and seen. Use these to prompt conversations and for reflection opportunities.
  • Record songs and stories and listen back to them together. Most tablets and smartphones have voice recorders and video cameras which make this easy. Children love listening back to recordings of their own voice.
  • Share photos with parents and carers. Children don’t need to be in the images, just things they’ve seen and done. It really helps promote regular discussions at home prompted by the question “What did you do today?”

As with all things, it’s about balance and quality. Various research projects conclude that technology should augment teaching (in the traditional sense) and should not replace. We think there is a place for technology in our nurseries, but always alongside traditional activities and there will never be a substitute in early years for a real person.

Further reading/links

Steph Dorling, Faringdon Nursery Manager


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