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How to Make the Most of Screen Time for Kids in the Pandemic

March 25, 2021

Worldwide, people are spending more time online than ever in their virtual workplaces, schools, and social lives. Now, many parents and caregivers are worried about their child’s screen time. You and your children are likely spending more time than ever on screens. That’s okay! Screen time is an important way we are connecting, learning, and giving ourselves a break during the pandemic. This article will provide you with strategies and resources to help you and your children make the most out of screen time.

In this article we will review how to:

  1. Make the most of the content you choose,
  2. Learn, explore, and find ‘newness’, and
  3. Structure screen use in your home.

Make the Most of the Content you Choose

Engaging with What’s On-Screen

Engaging content invites children to participate in what is happening on-screen. This can happen when characters speak directly to children, like when characters ask children to repeat words or answer questions. TV shows like Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues, and Dora the Explorer are great examples of content that provides children with direct engagement. Content that directly engages children supports their development more than passive content. So, choosing content like these examples is an easy way to get more benefits from screen time.

(left) Toddler uses laptop for screen time
(Right) Mother and son use a laptop during screen time for kids

Setting up children for positive engagement with content begins before turning on the screen. You can help prepare your children to actively engage with content by setting goals with your children. To set goals, you can talk about what you will watch ahead of time and give your child some developmentally-appropriate challenges. For example, you could say, “in this YouTube video, a little girl can’t find her hat, we will have to keep a lookout for that hat!” or “When we go to Circle Time, what song would you like to ask Ms. Joyce to sing?” Preparing children to predict, search, and react to what is on-screen helps them develop critical thinking skills and connect to real-life experiences once screen time is over.

You can also find engaging content here at BridgeWay through our programs and resources! During BridgeWay’s online programs, our facilitators invite children to copy movements, provide song and dance ideas or find objects for the program. You can use these ideas to engage your children with ANY content! For example, you can invite your children to name things on-screen, ask questions about the content, or make predictions about what will happen next. You can also use objects in your home! If your child sees someone brushing their hair, they can find a brush too. You can even create a scavenger hunt to help children connect what they see on screen to real life!

Here are some scavenger hunt ideas to get you started:

(left) A child's hand reaches for a toy horse in a basket of purple flowers
(right) a child's hand places a toy horse on a sheet of paper with drawings and a toy car

Adding Physical Activity to Screen Time

Another way screen time can be engaging is by supplementing it with physical activity! You and your child can dance, balance on one foot, or move any way to match what’s on-screen. You can do whatever gets your bodies moving and your heart pumping. The important part is to have fun with movement. You can also get some experience with active screen time by joining one of our Online Move and Groove program!

(Left) A black man playing a green ukulele dances with two children
(Right) A toddler standing on a table watches TV for screen time

Using Screen Time to Connect with Others

Since we cannot see our friends and loved ones in person, we encourage you to connect your children with loved ones and friends online. Connecting online could be reading your children’s favourite books with family or friends or having a play date with grandparents as we do during our Zooming to Grandma and Grandpa’s program.

Another way to make the most out of your child’s screen time is to connect with yourself or another adult for a (probably much needed) break to recharge. It is absolutely appropriate to use screen time as a tool to give yourself some space. Taking 30 minutes to take care of yourself and support your mental health is so important! Use this break to drink a coffee (while it’s still hot!), use the bathroom in peace, connect with a friend, or spend some quality time with your partner. Resources like BridgeWay programs or Common Sense Media can help you ensure that your child is seeing content that is right for their stage of development while you take a moment.

(Left) A preschooler uses an Ipad
(Right) A mother and daughter use an Ipad for screen time

Learning, exploring, and finding ‘newness’ with Screen Time

Exploring On-Screen

Many of us are spending lots of time at home and indoors. Use online content to help treat your family’s cabin fever by exposing you and your children to things you cannot experience in real life. Content that expands your child’s understanding of the world can help them find some needed ‘newness.’ You might even find new interests to explore with your child! We recommend trying to find content that shows:

  • Nature, animals, and the environment
    The Toronto Zoo is currently offering free virtual tours and programs for families, and Ripley’s Aquarium has live webcams to watch sharks, jellyfish and more!
  • Places around the world
    If you have family or friends who live in a different city, province, or country you can use Google Earth or Virtual Tours to show your child where they live!
  • Cultures and languages;
  • People and their jobs; or,
  • Objects, buildings, or equipment.

If your child has an interest, there is bound to be a YouTube channel or video you can show them to explore that topic together!

Connecting 2D to 3D

Even after screen time is over, you can use your child’s favourite content to inspire your real-world activities to support their development. Connecting content to real life helps your child improve their memory and critical thinking skills. You can use arts and crafts, imaginary play, or outdoor exploration to encourage children to make connections.

(left) a toddler fingerpaints
(middle) a preschooler plays with stuffed bears
(right) a child plays with sand and a bucket

If you’re looking for activity ideas, you could join our Online Family Time program! For more play ideas follow #BridgeWayPlays on Instagram or check out our Songs & Activities page!

Screen time can also help children understand people’s diversity in their community and the world, which benefits our whole community. Children benefit from content that shows:

  • different people, languages, and cultures;
  • a variety of family structures, friendships, and other relationships;
  • different lifestyles; and,
  • different types of workplaces and school environments.

Altogether, content that helps children learn to express their emotions and thoughts, imagine, and learn empathy, tolerance and respect will be great content choices.

Structuring Screen Time in your Home

One final way to support positive screen use in your home is to establish a family media plan. The purpose and rules of your family media plan are entirely up to you. Tailor your plan to your needs, resources, and interests. Some tips for a family media plan are to set screen time limits for everyone, set screen-free spaces and times (like the dinner table), and limits before bedtime. Make sure that babysitters and family members are aware of your family media plan to keep things consistent. By setting the example and making simple and reasonable rules with a family media plan, you can teach positive habits to your children to help them for their whole life.

BridgeWay can support your efforts to improve the quality of your children’s screen time through our online programming for families. We offer online family programs every day of the week via Zoom. Find a program that fits your routine on our Schedules page! We offer some programs with ASL interpretation or in French, Mandarin, or Urdu.

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