(This post is part of a series of 5 blogs meant to help families of children grades K-3 cope with school this fall. Links to the other four at the end of this post)
Can screens really be that helpful when it comes to educating children grades K-3?
The answer is a "cautious yes".
As parents, we are faced with a difficult choice when it comes to screen time, especially during quarantine, double especially that we are not trained to teach our children, AND that we have our own work to do. Screens offer a solution to teach our children, track their learning progress, and keep them engaged while we get stuff done. So, why not?
This is one of the more controversial topics among both teachers and parents. There will always be a reason to go for it and a reason to stay away.
The topic is particularly hot these days because we don't know what school is going to look like this fall and many of us have been burnt by the virtual school experience during quarantine this spring. We want to be as prepared as possible going into school this fall.
Screen-time is one of those items on our school-prep list that we either think of as a safety net and making sure it is at the top of the list, or thinking of as the enemy and pushing it to the very bottom of the list.
As you set up learning tools for your family this fall, I wanted to highlight six of the most debated screen-time arguments since we are already here.
1. Hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills
The digital world is precise. While this feature drives any online form filler insane, it trains children to use their hands to manipulate what is on the screen to exactly the right answer. This in turn strengthens their hand muscles and their muscle control system.
It is about the time spent practicing to learn a skill. If children practice hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills for the same amount of time they will acquire the skill with or without a screen.
2. Tracking progress & rewards
Great news for parents and teachers. Children are having fun while they get their work done, they might even work against other students, and grownups see the progress reports instantly. What's not to love, right?
Our children are human. They make human mistakes. These systems are neither perfect nor human. They don't react well to human mistakes. So while the intentions are great, and the kids may be having a great time. They may be making a mistake that falls through the cracks. Or they maybe not be making a mistake that the program picks up as a mistake. Either way, it is frustrating and counterproductive.
3. Offers learning opportunities that the immediate environment can not provide
Sure! Think museum trips, access to books or resources that are not available in your community, a deep-sea dive, a trip to outer space. This is a visual child's heaven.
There is a time and place for this. And there is a time and place for imagination.
4. Studying with their friends/peer group even when quarantined
A much more valid argument these days when we are quarantined. Also for families trying to sow the seeds of competition, many of these apps extend beyond the direct community.
Perhaps this is more accurate for older children. For the K-3 group, it might make more sense to spend this digital time socializing over a digital party or playdate.
5. More interesting to kids than traditional pen & paper or project-based work
True that the digital world comes loaded with bells and whistles. Colors, animation, music, encouraging messages, and rewards all keep children happily engaged for a much longer period of time.
All of these factors happening at the same time may be entertaining, but it interrupts deep learning. When it comes to learning new skills, slow is your friend.
6. We live in a digital world. Children need to become native digital citizens
Yes! And so digital time should be spent learning to code, maybe, or building interactively, or solving a problem using technology. It could also be used to practice typing, research, presentations, animation, or other ways to manipulate information or programs.
Teach children to become digital citizens by using technology to help their learning goals, not by depending on technology to learn.
To wrap this up, children will acquire many of the mentioned skills with or without a screen. However, they will only become digital citizens by interacting with the digital world.
It really depends on how much it fits within your family goals. Less time is better. Targeted practice is better. Where will you place it on your school-prep list?
More from this series to help families with children grades K-3 get their homes and families ready for school this fall:
* Screen-Time For Home Learning (This post)