Things to do BEFORE Screen Time

Oh...screen time... This is one of those topics that makes my head ache if I think too hard. I was not remotely as tech-savvy as my peers until I started teaching. I didn't have a phone that I could text on until I was 23 years old. The extent of my video gaming was Pokemon Pinball when I stole my brother's Game Boy. We had one fully functional computer in my home growing up and one television for most of my life. However, as a high school teacher, my students inspired me to stay more up-to-date on technological advances and to find awesome ways to use the screens they so love. Interestingly, I'm more pro-phone than Will is and he's more pro-TV than I am. He loves to do movie nights with homemade pizza, but doesn't like it if HG even picks up my phone. I'm okay with her smacking buttons on my screen, but only indulge in an infrequent 30 minute show on a no-nap, freezing cold, or sick day. I'm also more pro-computer than Will is - for the future. We'll reach our compromises when we need to and we've already started the conversation, for the meantime here's how we typically use screens with HG:

  • Connect with families (2x/mo): We FaceTime family members about two times per month and try to have them read a story.

  • Dance parties (<1x/wk)! We like to do Zumba together :). We play a video on our TV and try it together.

  • Music videos (2-5x/wk): We love Emily Arrow and Laurie Berkner and sometimes play and dance to their songs.

  • Yoga adventures and workouts (2-5x/wk): I loved my training with Jaime Amor of Cosmic Kids Yoga and we do one-ish videos a week as a family. I use FitnessBlender videos to work out almost daily. HG has little weights and she'll workout alongside me, get bored, and dump out our Boggle dice.

  • TV shows (1-2x/wk): We are CHOOSY about what HG watches, but we aren't purists about it. She has watched the end of an episode of Supergirl and Flash with me in the past. But, in the event that we are watching a show, it is usually Tumbleleaf on Amazon Prime. I love this show!!! A crab finds two items, keeps one, and tosses another into "The Finding Place" where a fox finds it and figures out how to play with it. The episodes end with the prompts, "Rumble leaf, tumble leaf, go play!" and "What will you play today?". AND, I often get ideas for play from the show - like making a straw and tissue paper kite or rolling things around the house. There's lots of silly rhymes in the show that are perfect for playing with letter sounds. My biggest bone to pick with the show is that it doesn't counter gender norms. Fig the Fox - the main character - almost always leads the play and solves the problems, the most significant female character, Maple, creates awesome inventions and more, but rarely gets to solve a problem. But hey, there's a pink engineer, so that's progress... We occasionally watch movies with HG, but any suspenseful or slightly violent scene is often too much for her if it is an American-made film. We watched Mune which was animated in France - I don't know enough about films to generalize trends, but I do know this specific film was more softly animated and calmer even in dramatic and deadly scenes. HG loved this movie (we watched it over about a week).

How we use screen times for our adult-selves is a different story. I am often on my phone. If HG is awake, I will put it up high to not distract her (on the counter) if I am texting or reading something. My mom has mentioned I take lots of pictures of the top of HG's head - the camera changes her focus from play, to camera and I don't want to mess up her flow. According to my last screen time weekly report, I'm on my phone 3hrs22min a day with a pick up every 11min! That's crazy. The hours are one thing, but picking up my phone that often is what really is helping me challenge myself to use my phone less. Butttt, I'm cheating and using my computer more... SO..there's that... Will uses tech way less than I do because he knows social media gets to his mood in ways it does not for me. I'll use the rest of this blog to share some resources about why considering how you use screen time in your family is worth your time and share some successes I've had in how we avoid the need for screen time with HG. Most of these practices I have in place with HG are ones I want to apply to myself as well - so you'll see some ideas about that too!

Why limit screen time? I listened to a great podcast from Simple Families interviewing Dr. Carla Hannaford that covered outdoor play, screen time, cross lateral movement (crawling, etc) and more. Media on screens is often designed to flicker, with lights changing between scenes. This creates suspense, but also elevates fight-or-flight response hormones (the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol). What we know in the education field (and neuroscience), is that constantly elevated stress hormones lead to a decreased ability to focus, an increased likelihood of chronic health issues, and more. As yoga teachers, we are trained to help people in our classes shift from a sympathetic nervous system in overdrive to "turning on" their parasympathetic nervous system by slowing down - when we can slow down enough to slow the release of adrenaline and cortisol encouraging us to react, react, react, we can more easily plan ahead, think creatively, and be mindful. Additionally, more screen time means less physically active time. Bodies are made for moving. You can see this when you walk into any classroom where a teacher is attempting a long lecture or "showing an educational movie" - students are restless, wiggly, doodling, chatting, or sleeping. Screen time also means less interactive time between caregivers and children or children and children.

What do we do before we turn on a screen? Y'all... being a parent, teacher, caregiver, human is hard sometimes. I understand why we opt toward screen time. I know after a day with a little one, I like to willingly suspend my disbelief and watch shows with superheroes. I know that the time at the end of the year, with no curriculum or tests facing you and a wonky daily schedule, educational movies seem useful. I know that on a day when your kiddo is on your last nerve or you want to get dinner prepped, a screen seems like the best option for keeping the peace. So, I'm not going to be an insensitive person living in an ivory tower and suggest no screen time (which would also be VERY hypocritical because we don't do no screens...). Instead, my challenge for myself and for readers is to do something else BEFORE turning it on or picking it up. I know friends who do a dry month a year or 5 sun salutations a day or a 10 minute walk before work. What we often find is that when we start a healthy habit that is a right fit for us, it blooms when it is ready. Do not aim to cut out screens if your family is used to them, but commit to try something else for 5 minutes before going for the screen. Think of this as doing more of something else you love. Here are some ideas I've tried (Disclaimer: Ironically, the first one is NOT a thing I love, but I love the impact it's had):

  • For me, I have a chore of the day that I do after I get HG down for nap and before I turn on a screen (some days... often I fail at this...). These are short - scoop the litter box, sweep the steps, water the plants. Doing these chores mindfully gives me time to check in with myself and see what I want to do or need to do with my time, and I'm sprucing up our house. I also try to journal or jot down an idea rather than type it. Some weeks, I'll have a game plan for screen-less stuff to do - like work on painting peg people or prepping for Tinkergarten classes.

  • As a couple, Will and I like to play Boggle or Spot It. Both of these are 3-5 minutes/round. If we do this right after HG falls asleep instead of turning on a TV, we usually end up with 20min of just us time without distractions. We also have tea together each night.

  • For HG, this is the one I've really got figured out :). I feel like often we lean toward screen time when we are tired or overwhelmed. SO, I choose a way to play that is NOT overwhelming or overstimulating, I do a thing I need to get done but involve HG, or we snuggle with books. I think water play is generally perfect for this (here's some info on how water play is both engaging and relaxing). You don't need a fancy water table. We love stirring petals in jars (an idea from Tinkergarten), floating aluminum boats in a pot over a towel, a bath or shower, or two bowls of water and some scoop-y toys on the back porch. I am not someone who minds messes even when stressed, so we often pull out art projects. Often, we'll add to the same piece of cardboard with different materials for about a month - markers or crayon for low mess days, glue and tissue paper for middle mess days, paint when I'm not stressed or overwhelmed :). If we work on an art project near some of HG's favorite small toys, she'll often migrate into quiet small world play giving me time to be in my adult brain for a few minutes. We go for walks. Walks seem like a big deal sometimes with gear to get on, sunscreen to rub in, shoes to find, but I challenge you to think of a truly awful, miserable walk you went on with your kiddo around your block when you weren't about to rush somewhere else (if you've had many awful walks, sorry... maybe don't do this one...). Bring a bucket on your walk and watch as it becomes nature play with collections, a bucket drum, and so much more (bring a book along for you if play really unfolds!). If I'm stressed because I need to get things done, like cook or get ready to go somewhere, I try to let HG help. She has a few random kitchen items she plays with in the kitchen and she knows how to gather her shoes, jacket, and rabbits if we're about to leave. If I'm not in the mood to play, snuggling with books or taking a bath together usually works just fine :).

What if we are used to screen time and my child will pitch a fit when I turn the screen off? Transition kindly and slowly. At the midpoint of an episode or 15 minutes before you want screen time to end, say, "At the end of this episode, we can have a dance party or do 10 minutes of yoga or kickboxing", after the episode, ask for their choice, and try it! This gives them some time to get their brain back to the real world AND to do something positive and interactive using the screen. At a family meal, list things to do that don't involve screens AND list awesome things to do that do involve screens (calling family, yoga, making a birthday card). Shift to doing more of those things gradually. If you're crafty, make a dice to roll or a deck of cards to pull that makes the choice for you - put this right by the TV or put it on top of an iPad at night. If this is challenging, try making screen time more interactive and meaningful. Talk about characters or events in shows and games. See if your kids can predict what will happen next in a show. Wonder together about a detail the show didn't answer. Design your own character for a video game. Stand up and move like the characters. Then, if you want to try transitioning to less screen time, your kiddos may be more ready.

Share what your family loves to do instead of/before/to limit screen time or share a screen time goal using #watchwonderbloom!

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