A Parenting Hack for the 21st Century: Making Screen Time Creative

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by the Technology Integration Department

Research about kids and screen time is often conflicting and confusing. Some reports say that parents should be strict about the amount of time their kids spend on devices, while others say that screen time may not have as much of an impact as we originally believed. At Flint Hill, we believe that making screen time more meaningful by infusing more learning and creating will benefit kids in the long run. We also believe in the value of providing device-free time for children, of all ages, to promote conversation and connection.

While there is no quick fix to get kids to move beyond simply consuming media, we believe that with encouragement and dialogue, you can help your child/ren find ways to engage creatively with a number of apps and tools. While many of these resources could be applied to any age group, we’ve categorized them based on division to help you quickly identify which tools are best for your family.

Lower School                           
Recently, Common Sense Media reported on the media habits of children who are zero to eight years olds. They found that the average amount of time these youngsters spend with mobile devices is 48-minutes per day — nearly triple the amount of time they spent on devices in 2011. And some technology experts believe in monitoring and limiting screen time. During the school day, our Lower School teachers are mindful of the time students spend using their iPads. More importantly, the apps our teachers use are carefully selected and vetted; apps must meet a set of criteria that support the academic and the critical and creative thinking intentions of the classroom. Below are a few of our favorite apps we recommend for use at home:

Explain Everything is a creative and fun app children can use to draw, narrate, animate and record audio and video and share. Your child can create any story, recount a family vacation or collect and animate images from his/her favorite playground.

Book Creator is another simple-to-use, creative app that resembles a digital book in which children can draw, type, and record audio and video. The end product can also be shared. Children can create a book about their grandparents, draw their favorite animals from the zoo or retell a family story in their own words and drawings.

Scratch Jr. is from the brilliant minds of MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten. It is an easy-to-use coding app that allows children to create their own coded stories. Children can draw their own characters, take photos or use the embedded characters and code them with blocks. It is robust in that it includes the many of the foundational elements in programming, such as conditionals and looping and helps younger students understand the importance of sequencing and algorithms.

Tynker is another fun coding app that uses the blockly (visual) programming language. It is similar to Scratch Jr. but does have more complex coding elements for older children. It also encourages children to code their own creative stories and animations.

Middle School
Common Sense Media also reveals that tweens (age 8 to 12) and teens (age 13 to 18) use a variety of devices and consume a great deal of media. It’s important to note that there is a huge difference between the passive consumption of media and creative device use. Passive consumption includes watching videos or movies, browsing social media or playing games. Meanwhile, most of the research and coverage on the adverse effects of screen time is around passive consumption. Rather than allowing tweens and teens to become passive screen addicts, turn their device time into constructive use. Meaningful device use can promote creativity and imagination and develop critical thinking skills. More importantly, it’s important to engage in conversations with your children about what they are creating and making. Some suggestions include:

 

  • Making a video about an experience or personal interest, using iMovie or Clips. This age range loves vlogging, but it would be fun to create videos whether or not the end result is to go public!
  • Keeping a journal with Book Creator. Or, if your child enjoys writing, a small book can be created with his/her story that includes photos, drawings, video or audio clips, and can be shared with others.
  • Editing photos with Snapseed or PicCollage.
  • Sketching ideas and observations with Paper53.
  • Making a stop motion animation with Stop Motion.
  • Creating music with GarageBand.
  • Learning to code with Scratch.

 

Upper School
By the time our students enter the Upper School, it can be tough to change their media habits outright. We know it’s hard to get students to try a new app when Netflix and Snapchat are at their fingertips 24/7. At the Upper School Parent Coffee on January 31, we introduced a new thinking routine to help parents leverage what their children are already doing online to steer them toward learning and creation. Specifically, we’re concerned about the research from Common Sense Media that our teenagers are spending 8 hours and 56 minutes a day consuming “media,” and yet only 3 percent of that time is used for “content creation.” We’re hoping that teachers and parents can collaborate to make connections between students’ media habits and their academic and extracurricular interests.

For example, a student who loves animals and photography and spends lots of time on Instagram and Snapchat can create and brand a separate account for nature photography. We firmly believe that this process will work for any of our students, whether they enjoy video games and use Twitch, or whether they’re passionate about community service and use Instagram. Perhaps the biggest benefit to this style of instruction is that with a new brand and a new mission, our students will: 1) connect with new and interesting users and organizations and 2) begin to create a positive digital profile that will help them learn and create, while helping others understand them as learners and creators.

This style of learning acknowledges what students are already doing online and what interests they already have, in order to create media-literate digital citizens. They’re media literate in that they are thinking critically about who they connect with and what they consume, but they also build and share to contribute to that network. And they’re digital citizens who connect ethically and respectfully and cultivate a positive online image.

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