You may have read the recent article in the Edmonton Journal about the effects of electronic devices on early childhood development. The conclusion was that time spent in front of screens doesn’t really help the brain development of preschoolers, and that screen time can be offset with physical activity.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there are 80,000+ apps labelled as “educational”. Unfortunately, just because something has been labelled as such, doesn’t make it so. Brain connections are built on a foundation of “serve and return”—healthy interaction that goes both ways. Most screen time is passive not active, and involves listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
Some products say they are “interactive,” but as the AAP points out, in order to be truly interactive there needs to be more than “pushing and swiping.” They recommend Common Sense Media to help you decide what’s appropriate.
So, what’s the number one source for physical activity? Interactive play! This gets kids moving, engaging all areas of the brain while increasing blood flow, making learning easier —not to mention fun!
Here are some ideas:
- Go on a nature walk and scavenger hunt. Put together a list of treasures found in nature, using words and pictures for your checklist. Take pictures and write a story about your scavenger hunt for a scrapbook!
- Do some gardening together; it’s a fun and multi-sensory way to work on numeracy and literacy skills. Kids can help with counting rows and seeds.
- Go on a treasure hunt for familiar words using environmental print like magazines, food labels and flyers. Collecting is fun, and this will motivate them to learn new words. Clip out the words and collect them in a newly decorated box!
- Play with sidewalk chalk. Write letters, numbers or shapes in chalk for your child to run to or jump on when called out. If you’re using numbers, you could try simple addition: One! (Jump to the 1), plus three! (Jump to the 3), equals four! (Jump to the 4).
- Dig for the alphabet, numbers or sight words. You will need an orange sponge or foam (like a pool noodle or dish sponge), and ribbon for the vegetable tops. Slice the foam into pieces and write letters, numbers or words on them with a marker. “Plant” them in the soil. After digging in your garden, you can even pair the activity with a book about food. On the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus, we like “Rah, Rah, Radishes!” by April Pulley Sayre.
“Rah, rah, radishes, red and white!
Carrots are calling. Take a bite!
Oh boy, bok choy, brussels sprout.
Broccoli! Cauliflower! Shout it out!”
- A great way to incorporate digital technology in an interactive way is to go on a photo hunt for colours. Go for a walk with your smart phone and as you walk, have your child find a colour. Then you can help them take a picture of the item with your phone.
- Collect sounds together. Make a checklist for commonly heard sounds and leave a blank space to check off with stickers. Examples of sounds you can search for are: barking dogs, meowing cats, sirens, singing birds, cars honking, or people talking.
- Make an outdoor obstacle course using whatever you can find around the yard. You might try tires, playground equipment, safety cones, jump rope, beach balls, hopscotch or a broom for limbo. The possibilities are endless!
While we don’t want to rule out all digital fun for kids, it is important to remember the research: physical movement and one-on-one time with parents or caregivers is what feeds our brain and develops oral language. So go play!