All parents instinctively know: children need less screen time. But as busy parents juggling multiple demands – from work, house chores and caring for siblings – screen time can be an easy ‘solution’ to help with the day-to-day pressures. Digital technology is here to stay and will inevitably grow with time. But to promote healthy development in all areas of child development, we need to make sure that technology use does not get in the way of opportunities for social interaction, physical activity, and creative play. Inventiveness occurs when kids have time for curiosity and exploration.
According to The Little Gym, ‘Creative play is a vital part of childhood and child development. Through creative and imaginative play children can grow emotionally, socially, intellectually, and even physically. Creative experiences help a child develop these skills and enable them to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas. Exposing children to creative opportunities contributes to, and furthers their development.’
When children have the time and space to play creatively they get to practice real-life skills – like how to negotiate and get on with their peers, when figuring out what to play or how to come to a solution when they can’t agree on something.
Equally, playing creatively by themselves – for example when they do some drawing or colouring in – can help them express their feelings in a safe way and process experiences they’ve had. When children read, they learn to use their imagination and think outside the realms of their immediate reality.
When they play creatively in a physical sense – like dancing or exploring in the garden, they not only get to use their gross and fine motor skills, they also test their own boundaries and limits. Through trial and error they understand what works and what doesn’t, what they can and can’t do and what they need to do to master a new skill.
But, as a parent, I know that providing your children with opportunities for creative play can sometimes be quite tricky. We have got used to putting them in front of screens and we feel that when we do this, we can rest assured that the children will 'be entertained' for whatever period of time we need, to get work done or finish some chores. I truly believe there is a time and a place for everything, so in our house there are definitely times when screens are what we use. But there are also times – especially when the kids’ behaviour is starting to deteriorate and they are struggling to stay off screens – when I know I need to find something else for them to do.
With my three I have noticed, that when they have too much screen time they struggle to get to sleep at night – especially when they have had screen time too close to bed time. I also notice that my children are much more prone to mood swings and are far more self critical of themselves. When I spend time and connect with them, this seems to balance itself out – as if they need some time to be with other humans (me or their siblings or friends) to find their equilibrium. Has anybody else found that?
There are loads of studies out there describing the risks and effects of too much screen time, for example, a National Institutes of Health study found that 'children who spent more than two hours a day on electronic devices scored lower on thinking and language tests. Those with more than seven hours of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, which is related to critical thinking and reasoning.'
All scary stuff - and all well and good – BUT what do we do as parents instead? We still need downtime, or time to get some work done and don’t always have the time to play with our children.
I think for me, as always it is all about balance. The background for me setting up MummyMadeThis two years ago was hearing from parents all over the place how they struggled to have something simple for their kids to do that would keep them busy without necessarily putting them in front of a screen. That is the ethos behind our products – whether this is the PlayTableCloth or the DoodleCloth – it is all about encouraging creative play, to help children develop in a healthy way, but also to support parents to have some time.
Our products have been tested and developed alongside children to ensure that the colours, features and games resonate with what they like to do most. Role-playing ‘shopping’ featured high on the list, as did playing with cars and drawing pictures of their own. The colours are bold, inviting and striking to entice children in to get involved straight away. For the PlayTableCloth, the doors and windows open and close, allowing for lots of excitement and giggles – especially from younger ones. For the DoodleCloth we’ve included striking images to colour in and white spaces too for children to ‘freestyle’ and draw their own creations.
At the same time, our products are practically thought through – so that they are easily washable, and can be assembled and packed away with minimal fuss. A lack of space in the home can also be an issue for many families – especially those with young children – so converting an existing piece of furniture into a PlayHouse or giant colouring in sheet is the perfect space saver. And with working from home becoming the new normal, rooms are becoming multifunctional. With the PlayTableCloth and the DoodleCloth parents can have their children play alongside them if need be. It becomes an alternative to screens.
In our house we use both – creative play and connection comes first if at all possible and then there is some time for screens afterwards. How do you find that balance in your house? I know there is no easy answer and for me the main thing is to learn and try and figure that magical balance between meeting your needs and those of your children as best as you can each and every day. When I see their smiles and their ability to cooperate and work as a team with each other and with me and my husband, I know we are onto a winner. But there are days where the opposite is true as well of course and there is fighting and grumbling and apologies (and we learn and grow and try again the next day ;-)).
That’s all from me this week. Next week we’ll talk a bit more about other ways to fill your own cup in lots of small ways that work around your family and still give you what you need.
I hope have a great rest of your week.
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