Best Educational Programs for Young Children

19 Educational Programs for Young Children to Watch

Setting reasonable limits for screen time means that your children can enjoy some quality educational programming as a part of their balanced day. Studies show that children who watch educational programming at a young age actually perform better academically than children who do not. (Especially when “anti-educational” fast paced programs, like SpongeBob, are avoided.) Setting reasonable expectations for screen time, even for educational programming, is a very helpful part of the process.

In order to watch these programs, we connect our TV to our computer and are purposeful about all that we watch. If you decide to cancel your cable subscription, you can use the money you save for to spend $9.99/mo. on a Netflix subscription and/or $99/yr on an Amazon Prime subscription, and purchase some of these DVDs, and then (with the help of free YouTube, PBS, and Nick Jr. programs) you will have all you ever need to entertain and teach your kids!

So, when our children DO watch TV, the are the educational programs our little ones have been entertained by, learned from, and wanted to watch over and over again.

1. Preschool Prep

These videos have played a fundamental role in teaching our children their letter names, letter sounds, digraphs, consonant blends, sight words, shapes, colors, and numbers. We show them to our little babies to introduce them to the concepts, again as toddlers when they are fully engaged, and again during the preschool years for good review.

Preschool Prep DVDs

Preschool Prep DVDs

Buy the entire 10 DVD collection here for $60! If you get anything, at least get the Letter Names and Letter Sounds DVDs and your children will learn their ABCs in no time (which will help them learn how to read at a much younger age than you might imagine, check out more of my favorite ABC resources here and my Embracing Motherhood Store here.

2.  Leapfrog

These videos have a story line that makes them more engaging for an older child learning his or her alphabet, but I still love them for reinforcing letter sounds and other great concepts such as numbers, shapes, opposite words, and more. The characters are cute and engaging, and all of our children really like these programs in addition to the corresponding educational toys.

Leapfrog

Leapfrog

Get a 3 DVD collection of some of our favorites (Amazing Alphabet, Learn to Read, and Numbers Ahoy) here for $10.29, or you can watch 12 episodes on Netflix (if you have a subscription). There are also lots of great toys, like this Leapfrog Fridge Magnet set, this Leapfrog Letter Discoveries Board, and this Leapfrog Scribble and Write Tablet that will help your children learn their letters.

3. Your Baby Can Learn

I stumbled across what were originally called “Your Baby Can Read” videos before our first daughter was born and started watching them with her when she was 6 months old. By watching these videos, teaching her the ABCs, and reading lots and lots of books, she was reading by the age of two. I am very sad that they went out of business because some people were mad about the idea of having children under two watch TV, but they are rebranding themselves and coming out with new and wonderful videos that your little ones will love and learn a lot from.

Your Baby Can Learn

Your Baby Can Learn

You can buy the entire learning kit online ($150) that includes videos, flashcards, and teaching tips that will make learning how to read very fun and possible for children at a very young age. Or, you can check out their YouTube Channel to see free videos. I love how they are now making learning videos for all languages. My three year old daughter Ophelia LOVES language, is an amazing reader, and is really excited to learn other languages too. You can also just type in “your baby can read” into Youtube and find some of their original videos that I simply love!

Your Baby Can Learn Deluxe Kit

Your Baby Can Learn Deluxe Kit

These videos have inspired me to create my own system to teach young children how to read. You can see what I have so far at my Embracing Motherhood store and stay tuned for more!

ABC Flashcards

ABC Flashcards

4. Bada Namu

This is a cute little show that my kids actually found through YouTube Kids. It’s really great at teaching vocabulary and has lots of cute songs. I love how the lyrics are displayed at the bottom of the screen so that children can read along as they listen to the songs.

bada-namu

You can go to their YouTube Channel to see all of their videos and check out their pre-made playlists. If you go to their website, they have an entire curriculum to teach your little ones everything they need to know. The resources look really awesome!

5. Maisy

This show is particularly engaging for babies and toddlers, but the older ones don’t mind it too much either. This show focuses on simple concepts like bedtime and birthday which is great for teaching little ones about their world. I especially like watching this show so that my little ones will get engaged with the Maisy books like this 16 book collection (for $53.99).

Maisy

Maisy

You can watch full episodes for free on YouTube or you can buy the DVDs. We like the Goodnight Maisy DVD (for $8.97), the Good Morning Maisy DVD (for $9.36), and the Playtime Maisy DVD (for $9.32) to name a few.

6. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

This show was modeled after Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and even approved by Ms. Roger’s herself. It teaches children a lot about how to handle their emotions and about really basic concepts that they may deal with on a daily basis like trying new foods and making new friends. We pretty much love all PBS programming, and this is no exception.

daniel_tigers_neighborhood_logo

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

You can watch episodes for free, play games, watch stories, and color on the PBS website.

7. Harold and the Purple Crayon

Growing up as a child, I always loved reading Harold and the Purple Crayon. The simplicity and creative imagination it evoked seemed to open up a world of possibilities in my mind. We stumbled across this show, narrated by Sharon Stone, and were mesmerized by the melodic tone of the show. It’s a great show to watch during rest time or before bed because of the calm music and gentle stories that put you in a sort of dreamland with the feeling of being read a story.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon

You can watch full episodes for free on YouTube or buy the DVDs on Amazon if you would like to watch this lovely program. I also highly recommend checking out some of the many Harold and the Purple Crayon books.

8. Blue’s Clues

This show is simple, predictable, engaging, and has fun cute characters that are very entertaining for young children. I love the concept of solving a mystery and how real children are incorporated into the show.

blues clues

Blue’s Clues

You can buy DVDs, like this Blue’s Clues Alphabet Power for $5.99, or you can watch full episodes for free on Nick Jr. Our children also enjoy the many Blue’s Clues books.

9. Peep and the Big Wide World

This show is extremely simple and engaging for toddlers in a way that feels like someone is reading them a story. I also like how it connects to real children trying out experiments that relate to the concepts in the show.

peep and the big wide world

Peep and the Big Wide World

You can buy DVDs, like this 3-disc collection of Peep and His Pals for $12.99, you can watch it for free here on YouTube, or you can watch free episodes and play games here.

10. Sesame Street

I grew up loving Sesame Street as a child, and to this day, sometimes I just prefer watching the older episodes. 🙂 But Sesame Street has continued to change with the times while still maintaining their recognizable and lovable characters.

sesame-street

Sesame Street

You can go to the PBS website to watch full episodes, play games, and do art activities, but I’m most impressed with their comprehensive YouTube Channel. You can watch videos here sorted by your child’s favorite character, watch different playlist compilations, or just explore all of their videos.

11. Peppa Pig

This is a fun little show that we recently stumbled upon. Our kids of all ages (1-7) love watching it. Maybe it’s the narrator’s accent that they love most of all, but at any rate, the simple story line and message of the show is really cute and engaging.

peppa_pig

Peppa Pig

You can watch full episodes for free on YouTube just by typing “peppa pig full episodes” into the search bar. You could also buy some DVD sets on Amazon along with some cute books and toys.

12. Backyardigans

This is a great show for modeling the use of imagination. I love how all of the characters come together in their backyards and then enter these creative worlds that they design in their minds.

Backyardigans

Backyardigans

You can watch free full episodes on the Nick Jr. website, watch full seasons of episodes on Amazon Prime, do a YouTube search for “Backyardigans full episodes“, or buy DVDs on Amazon. Our kids have also enjoyed reading the many Backyardigans books.

13. Super Why

Even though this is really designed for more of a preschooler to school aged child, our toddler has still really enjoyed it. It does a wonderful job of teaching the basic concepts of reading using characters and problems that children can relate to. I also like the Super Why books and learning games available.

4-superwhy-group

Super Why

You can buy DVDs, like this Fairytale Double Feature for $8.29, or you can watch seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix (if you have a subscription), or watch it on PBS if you have a cable subscription. *PBS has some Super Why games too.

14. Wild Kratts

This is a great program for teaching children about animals. I love how it switches from the cartoon characters to real life characters and animals. There is also a nice set of corresponding Wild Kratts books.

Wild Kratts

Wild Kratts

You can buy DVDs, like this Wildest Animals Adventures 5 disc compilation for $23.69, watch seasons 1, 2, and 3 on Netflix (if you have a subscription), or watch a select amount of videos on PBS for free.

15. Little Einsteins

I love how each program incorporates famous artists and composers and uses them throughout the program as part of the storyline. The show is very engaging, moves at a nice pace, and provides a balanced amount of learning and entertainment. There are also many Little Einstein books to enjoy.

little einsteins

Little Einsteins

You can buy DVDs, like this 3-Pack of Favorite Adventures for $24.96, or you can watch seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix (if you have a subscription). You can also watch a select number of videos and play Little Einstein games on Disney Jr.

16. Dora

Both of our girls (and the boys somewhat too) have LOVED this program as toddlers! I love the way the show teaches sequencing with the beginning, middle, end concept of a story while teaching Spanish at the same time. I especially love how watching the show has made our girls LOVE reading Dora books.

dora

Dora the Exlplorer

You can watch free full episodes on the Nick Jr. website, you can buy Dora DVDs, like this Greatest Adventure’s DVD (with a run time of 198 minutes) for $7.99, or you can watch full episodes on YouTube if you search for “Dora full episodes“. We used to watch full episodes on Netflix, but they’re not there anymore. You can find them on Amazon Prime, however. Our kids also really like Dora in the City. There are also some great educational Dora apps.

17. Magic School Bus

This show really appeals to more of preschool to school age children and does a wonderful job of teaching scientific concepts in a fun and engaging storyline with the unpredictable Ms. Frizzle! There are also tons of Magic School Bus books (like this one about the solar system, this one about the human body, and this one about the dinosaurs), and that connect to the TV programs.

the-magic-school-bus

The Magic School Bus

You can buy the entire 52 episode collection on 8 discs for $35.99 here, or you can watch all four seasons on Netflix (if you have a subscription).

18. Sid the Science Kid

This program is great for younger children and does an amazing job teaching basic scientific concepts such as why we need to brush our teeth, how we grow, and simple machines. The simplicity and predictability of the program are engaging, and I love how it shows clips of real kids and gives you ideas of things you can do at home. We really like the Sid’s Science Fair app too.

sid-the-science-kid-logo

Sid the Science Kid

You can buy some episodes on Amazon, like this one about rainbows (for $5.99), this one about weather (for $4.99), or this movie (for $5.99) or you can watch episodes at PBS Kids.

19. The Amoeba Sisters

This is definitely for the older preschool child (up to an adult), and may not be engaging for all, but our son Elliot started watching this when he was 4 year old. He LOVES the cute little characters with word bubbles and he LOVES learning about the science of biology, so this has been perfect! I really like it too because it helps me to learn as well!

Amoeba Sisters

Amoeba Sisters

Go to their YouTube channel here. You can watch all of the videos in order on their playlist, and I highly recommend subscribing so that you can stay up to date with any new videos.

In Conclusion

I love having some simple shows for the kids to watch when I need them to be entertained and know that they are going to be learning and benefiting in some way. I know that some people feel that banning all technology and TV and screen time is a good idea, but that’s just not something that works in our family. By setting reasonable limits with screen time using routines, I feel like we have a very good balance in our household.

Check out more of my technology blogs here, or check out more of my nature blogs here to see how we engage our children with outdoor activities as well! You might also like my blog: My Favorite YouTube Playlists for Teaching Kids Ages 0-6.

Buying a New Computer Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

If you’re in the market for a new laptop or home computer, check out these recommendations from our resident computer guy!

By: Guest Blogger Scott Maaser

scott

Scott “The Computer Guy”

Bio: Not only does my husband fix computers for a living by day, but he writes code for desktop apps in a few different programming languages by night. He is also the resident computer guy in both of our families and circle of friends. He pretty much lives, eats, and breathes computers, and so when I saw this website recommending “great deals on computers for homeschool families”, I naturally showed him wondering if it really was a good deal. He laughed, and explained how buying a new computer these days shouldn’t be an expensive ordeal, and how “deals” like these aren’t really deals at all . I asked him to write me a post explaining his answer in more more detail, and here it is, from our resident computer guy!

Buying a New Computer Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

School is back in session, and that means back to school shopping. Pens, notebooks, backpacks – everyone knows how to shop for those items, but when it comes to computers, sometimes the amount of options and features can be overwhelming. Where do people go to get recommendations for computers? Most people I know go into a big-box store like Best Buy, but stores like that have to cover a lot of overhead and aren’t really looking out for your best interests.

Who Am I?

I’d like to take a quick break here and talk a little about myself and my experience. I’ve worked at Best Buy in the past, and I’m currently working as a Client Technology Technician, which is just a fancy way of saying I just fix computers at a large company. I’m fixing laptops day in and day out – both in the workplace and with my co-worker’s computers. I’ve been doing work like this on and off for the last 20 years.

What They’re Really Selling You

My wife just sent me a link to this website which advertises discounted laptops for homeschoolers. I looked through what they offered, and I noticed a couple of things. First of all, I saw a few models of the laptops they offered as ones I had worked on 4-5 years ago. Looking at their pricing, I didn’t really see how their price points offered any kind of noticeable discount. I know they do include a 4 year warranty, laptop bag, and 8GB flash drive, but not everyone wants to purchase all those add-ons. They also offer a slight discount on Microsoft Office at $118 (more on this later).

If you take a look at their Lenovo T400 at $250, for example, I noticed that it came out in 2010 and really does not have the specs to compete with modern processors and memory technology. In fact, Amazon currently has T400s selling at $118.49 (this includes shipping).

So look, all this aside, I know there are some really good laptops (and desktop computers) out these days that come with a manufacturer’s 1-year warranty, have modern technology, and cost significantly less than the computers you can get from big-box stores and most online retailers.

My Laptop Recommendation

Lenovo 100s with Windows 10 ($210) – I have been using Lenovo laptops and ThinkPad laptops for over a decade. They hold up the best over time and have had the least number of issues during normal wear and tear. This version of the 100s has double the standard storage space with 64GB of solid-state storage. This model also comes with a full version of Windows 10 which means it’s ready to handle pretty much any kind of educational software and web browsing you can find to supplement education.

My Desktop Recommendation

Azulle Mini Desktop PC with Windows 10 ($169, or bundled with keyboard and camera for $255) – With 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and a modern Intel Atom processor, it will handle any basic task you throw at it. You will be able to hook this up to your TV and watch Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, or anything else. It also has VGA video output, so you can connect it to most computer monitors.

If you are looking for a monitor, this ViewSonic 22 inch monitor ($99) can really bring your computing experience into vivid existence. ViewSonic has been in the monitor business for decades, and this display really showcases some of their best efforts. It comes with DVI and VGA ports, which allows it to not only connect to most computers, but also can scale up to Full HD 1080p resolution. It even has built in speakers so you can experience stereo sound right on your desktop without purchasing additional speakers.

The Azul Mini Desktop Computer can stand alone as it’s own system and will allow you to install Microsoft Office or any other variant of free Office alternatives. As a teacher or student (yes, even homeschool), you can get Microsoft Office for FREE (along with 1 TB of online storage). If you don’t want to go that route, here are your other purchasing options: purchase it for a one time fee of $149 (1 installation), pay $9.99/mo. (or $99/yr.) for up to 5 installations or $6.99/mo. (or $69.99/yr.) for 1 installation.

It also has 3 USB ports, which means it will not only handle a standard set of USB keyboard and mouse, but it also has one more port in case you want to hook up a USB external Hard Drive ($54.99) for extra storage.

Other Extras

Flash DriveThis device hold 32 GB, which is enough to move anything you need to move from one device to another. Speaking of devices, this has connections for both full sized USB, like on your computers, as well as micro USB, to connect to Android and Windows smartphones. This allows you to copy things to and from your phone or tablet to your computer – super handy. Also, at only $11.99, this is a great price for 32 GB of flash storage.

Keyboard/MouseAt just under $20, this wireless keyboard and mouse combo is a great buy. It’s made by Logitech, which is the industry leader in keyboards and mice. Plus, it’s wireless so installation is simple. Wireless peripherals have come a long way in terms of battery life. I use a wireless Logitech keyboard and mouse at work, and I usually need to change out the single AA battery in the mouse and the 2 AA batteries in the keyboard about once a year. Plus, the wireless feature means less wires coming in and out of your computer.

Printer: We have gone through many many printers, and finally settled on the Epson WorkForce Pro because it was reviewed to be the best quality and most cost effective printer for a small business, and with the amount of printing that we do, this has provided both quality and quantity, but not without hassles. It can’t handle thick card stock, we have dealt with many paper jams, and the ink is pricy, but overall, we have been quite happy. If we had to purchase a new printer today, however, we might take a look at some of these models.

In Conclusion

All in all, getting a new computer that can help you move your home computing experience into some newer, faster technology shouldn’t break the bank. Feel free to leave a comment (or send an email) if you have any questions about anything, and I will be happy to answer them!

Embracing Motherhood Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

It started out with educational apps on ipads, playing Starfall and Pixie 4 on the computer, and watching educational programs mixed in with a moderate amount of choice, but then we got lax on the rules and noticed one day that technology had taken over our lives.

We debated a gradual reduction or a reinforcement of the original rules, but it was too late for that…

We had to quit technology cold turkey.

First, the iPads

One evening, during our nightly wrestling routine with daddy, our daughter Ruby (6) just wanted to watch Digimon (I don’t even know how we came to allow this in the first place). Usually, we can ask her to put her iPad away and she does so graciously, but this time, there was ATTITUDE! When daddy asked her to put the iPad down, she flat out said no, and then when daddy got more stern she said,

“What are you going to do if I don’t?”

Hubba wha?!?!?!? We both looked at each other in shock! Where did this mouthy little teenager come from all of a sudden?? And so daddy said what all parents of teenagers must say,

“Trust me, you don’t want to find out!”

Well needless to say, we knew something needed to change. That night, I took all of the iPads and our touch screen computer and hid them away. I also unplugged our WiiU, Playstation, and computer in the homeschool room.

The Aftermath

We weren’t really sure how to handle the explanation of the disappearance of the touchscreen devices, and when Elliot asked me the next morning where they were, I relied on a little white lie to get me through it.

“Someone stole our iPads!” I explained.

Phew, that was easy. 🙂 Elliot was quite upset, but still a pretty easy sell. He said, “God must be mad at us to let this happen.” Honestly, I don’t know where he gets these notions!

But when Ruby came home from school, she was a little more skeptical. First she wanted to know every detail of said robbery including why they miraculously didn’t take my laptop. Smart girl. Then, she wanted to conduct an investigation including knocking on the door of every neighbor and writing letters to all of her classmates. When she wouldn’t drop it, I said, “You’re right, it probably wasn’t a robbery. I’ll bet Julian just took them and hid them somewhere.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just do it mom,” she asked.

I explained that no, I didn’t do it, but even if we had our iPads, we were going to restrict their use anyways because we didn’t like how addicted everyone was getting to them and the attitudes that were emerging as a result.

To explain the unplugged video games and computers, we said that we couldn’t afford the electric bill, and so we couldn’t play them until our budget was caught up. We talk about money and finances a lot, so although they were a little upset, they really understood and accepted this explanation.

Technology Free Days

The first day without technology was TOUGH! No ABC videos to distract Julian while I was cooking, no TV during breakfast, and no choice time to entertain them while I stole some time to myself.

As they engaged in play, it was almost like they forgot how to entertain themselves. So I sat on the floor and played with them as they went from room to room trashing everything in sight. I felt like I was constantly cleaning and constantly on the move!

We spent the rest of the day engaged in play outside, and my the end of the night, they were exhausted. So was I!

By the second and third day, something beautiful started to happen. They asked about their missing iPads less and less, the negative attitude was disappearing, and we were having so much fun as a family! Whenever it would get really quiet for awhile, I would worry, “Oh no! They found them!” But then I would sneak into the room to see them engrossed with reading, playing quietly, or find that they let themselves outside to play. It was beautiful.

“Why didn’t we do this sooner?” we wondered.

Well, at least we’re doing it now…especially as these fleeting summer days beg to be enjoyed.

It’s Okay to Be Bored

Children don’t need to be constantly entertained, and neither do we. Boredom is actually a gift, a mind break that allows us to come up with new and creative ideas. The longer our children went without technology, the less they relied on us to entertain them, the fewer messes they made as they became engrossed in sustained imaginative play, the more they interacted with each other and nature, and the closer we became as a family.

As we settled into this new routine, I started finding pockets of time for myself again to work out, blog, and create. Something else pretty amazing started happening too. As the children settled into their boredom, they were more interested in what I was doing and wanted to help!

Who knew that helping me make cookies, fold the laundry, and sweep could be so much fun!

The older ones were also more willing to pitch in and do chores, and I really appreciated their help. Ruby decided she wanted her job to be laundry, and so one day she helped me put daddy’s bin of clothes into the washing machine and put away her and Elliot’s clothes. Elliot said he was really good at picking up, so he picked up the toys in one room…then he got distracted and started playing with the toys, but hey, it’s a start!

Finding a Balance

After about a week of nothing, we decided that they (we) could watch one movie during rest time. Previously, they were engrossed in their own little iPad worlds watching toy videos on YouTube and Digimon on Netflix, but with a movie, it was something we could all cuddle up and watch together. We love finding old classics like the Last Unicorn, Little Nemo, and Home Alone and watching them over and over.

When school is out and summer gets into full swing, we plan on implementing our summer routine where the older kids have to do four workbook pages (handwriting, math, cursive, etc.), three activities, and one chore to have an educational computer choice (Pixie 4, Storymaker, working on Favorite Things books, etc.) or watch a movie.

We also are going to let them have 3o minutes (from 4:00-4:30 when daddy gets home) to have a choice to watch whatever they want if they good and do all of their work, activities, and chores. Having this time gives us some leverage (i.e. by taking away a positive reinforcement it becomes a logical consequence for misbehaviors).

In Conclusion

During the long winter months, we may bring back the WiiU, Playstation, iPads, and touchscreen computer in limited and regulated amounts, but we definitely agree that taking a break over the summer is what is best for everyone. Technology can serve a valuable role in many educational opportunities, but it is just too easy to let it be a babysitter and let limits slide until the devices seem to take over. Going cold turkey and taking a break really worked for us and is something we will continue to implement as needed with all things in life.

Embracing Motherhood Setting Reasonable Limits for Screen Time

Setting Reasonable Limits for Screen Time

It’s very easy for articles like this, “Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children” from the New York Times, to get a bunch of heads nodding in agreement and commenting things like, “That’s why we only let our kids have screen time at school,” and “That’s why we only let our kids watch one hour of educational TV a week,” and “That’s why we don’t have any computers in our house,” and other such sentiments expressing a view that is in my opinion, just as extreme.

The fact is that technology is a part of our lives (and will continue to be) whether we like it or not, and it is our job to prepare our children for the future as it will be, not as we dream it to be. Yes, it’s scary, and yes, technology can be used poorly, but in my article, “Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time…Especially for Children Under 2“, all of the available research shows that children exposed to educational media were remarkably higher academically than children who were not. Not only that, but when speaking about “screen time”, most of the data is actually associated with television, not computers, smart phones, laptops, tablets, etc.

Unplugging from TV is something we did so long ago (click here to see what we do instead), we don’t even give it a second thought, but we do supplement with purposeful programs. (Find out what we like to watch instead here.) We don’t keep the TV on in the background, we don’t randomly flip through channels trying to kill time, and we don’t expose our children to the persuasive bombardment of commercials.

This is how we set reasonable limits for screen time that provides for a healthy balance of choice, autonomy, structure, rules, expectations, and balance that works for us.

Set a Good Example

When my husband and I think about our own screen time usage, we are constantly checking ourselves to ensure that there is a healthy balance. Sometimes, we have to stop for a minute and say, “Okay, we are just looking at our phones too much.” And then we put them aside, out of reach, and make an effort to connect with each other.

For the parents who are complaining that their kids spend 8-11 hours in front of a screen, I just think, “What are the parents doing all this time?” It sure would be silly to say, “You can’t have any media!” but then go into another room and spend time working on a computer.

I think it’s important for kids to see us struggle, and to talk to them about it. Sometimes, I find myself caught up in the world of my computer, and when I pull myself out of it, I’ll apologize and say, “I’m sorry I got so caught up in my computer. You guys are way more important to me than any technology.” When kids see how we struggle and how we overcome it, it provides them with a model worth following.

Guided Use

Just as we reflect on what is appropriate and what is not for ourselves, children need the opportunity to reflect on this as well. If we don’t show our children how to find educational and stimulating programs and games and instead leave it up to them to find and use whatever they want, is it any surprise that they choose “Candy Crush” and violent video games?

How are they going to know the good that is out there (and there is good out there, just as there is bad) if we don’t guide them? I know it can be hard to stay one step ahead of kids, especially as they get older and more “technologically savvy”, but it’s our JOB to stay one step ahead of them, and it’s our JOB to guide them.

We like to spend time WITH our children as they navigate technology. We research apps, games, and programs. We test them out, look at reviews, and watch what’s out there before we bring it to them. Then we sit beside them to play these educational games and watch these educational programs with them. In doing so, we figure out what they like and what they don’t like, and it helps us to figure out what to do next.

Using Screen Time As a Babysitter?

As a busy mother of four, yes there are times when I use screen time as a babysitter, and I think this is perfectly okay! I always strive to create a stimulating environment that encourages independence, creativity, and learning, and I try to involve the kids as much as I can when I cook and  do chores, but yes, there are times when I need them to park it, not make any more messes, and let me get caught up.

For me, it’s important to be able to prepare healthy food, keep the house clean, and find a little time for me to blog or whatever. Doing these things makes me happy…and this makes me a good mom. Some people talk about how messes don’t matter and how the most important thing is quality time, and I’m sorry, but if my house is a disaster, it makes me feel overwhelmed and out of control. I don’t need every thing to be spic and span, but a clean and organized home makes me feel in harmony. If allowing my children to watch some educational programs, play some educational games, or have some choice time to watch or play what they want (with things that we approve of), then I say it is very very well worth it.

Rules About Appropriate Content

This is a rule that we enforce as it comes up. Basically, we don’t let our children watch anything with bad words. An occasional “What the heck!” is okay, but we don’t like the word “fricken” or anything worse than that. We also don’t allow realistic violence or violence to women as is seen in the Mortal Kombat video games. If they want to watch shows with questionable content, like the Simpsons, we just want to be able to watch it with them so that we can explain, skip, and fast forward as necessary.

Allowing for Choice

Some day, our children will be on their own. I know it seems like they will be under our thumb forever, but the reality  is that someday they will have freedom, they will make choices on their own, and they will pay the full price for those choices without us there to help them pay the price. What will they do with their freedom? Will we condition them to always do what we say just because we say it, or will they buy into the reasoning behind our choices?

I like seeing what our children gravitate towards during their “choice time”. When I was a kid, we got to watch one show and play one video game per day. My brother always chose Heman, I chose My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite, and we both loved playing our Atari 1200, especially Super Breakout, Joust, and Dig Dug! Now, there are so many choices it can be overwhelming. We like to introduce our children to what’s available and then let them discover what they like.

We recently bought a Wiiu, and Elliot LOVES Mario Maker! Ruby and Elliot both love Super Mario 3D World and Kirby because they can explore and play together. On computers and ipads, hey also both really love watching toy reviews, game reviews, and video game walk throughs, and people making really fancy cakes on YouTube, and they have each had their passing phases with shows they’ve liked on Netflix like Zig and Sharko and Digimon. On their ipads, Elliot really likes playing Goblin Sword, Robot Gets Kitty, and Ruby really likes things like Monster Shave and Alice in Wonderland.

We also like to teach our children about educational choices (like my favorite teaching apps for preschoolers), and often times these are so fun that they choose them even during choice time!

Why We Don’t Set Time Limits

When I was a teacher, I learned not to set too many specific rules because it would just encourage kids to try to find the exception for breaking them. Instead of saying, “no throwing things, no blurting out, no running, no gum chewing”, and on and on, I said, “The number one rule is to show respect,” then we talked about what that would look like and what that wouldn’t look like. We even acted out scenarios.

If I set time limits on the technology, then the time is the enforcer, not me. I might need them to be occupied for 3o minutes or for two hours depending on what I need to get done. If I say, “Only one hour of technology a day,” then I have to stick with that. Consistency is so important and time limits do not help with this, in my opinion.

Setting Limits with Rules and Routines

With these rules and routines, I try to go through each day using as little screen time as possible and only use it when it’s really necessary. Mornings are when brains are the most active, and so I like to limit screen time (after our morning routine) as much as possible. With my littler ones, I usually don’t bring out my educational YouTube playlists until they have had a full morning full of cuddles and activities and are getting a bit fussy while I need to get a few things done. It makes me happy to know that they are learning something valuable at this time. With my older ones, I have found that it’s really helpful when we stick to the following routine.

1. Breakfast: Educational choices only

My husband is able to get up quite early, get ready, prepare breakfast, and sit down to eat with our daughter Ruby (6) while they listen to music before he takes her to school. I usually get up at the same time as our son Elliot (5) and usually have to prepare breakfast while holding our baby Julian (1). Because of this, I have him do something educational on the computer while I make and then we eat breakfast. Usually he likes to do Starfall Math, and lately he’s been getting into the Amoeba Sisters.

2. Morning Routine: Breakfast, clothes, teeth

After we eat breakfast, we get dressed, and brush our teeth. We made a Morning Routine chart going over these expectations together, and it’s really important for the tenor of our day to stick to it.

3. Three Activities: Must be physical, imaginative, creative, or educational (Sometimes I say three long activities or six short activities.)

We also made a chart of all of the different activities we could do…things like play imagination games, build with legos, read books, do yoga, play music, play a game, do puzzles, etc. Sometimes, I have to really play with Elliot to encourage him to extend his activities. I think that teaching kids how to play is very important.

4. One Chore: Do one chore before having a choice

I just added this recently, and it’s brilliant! Basically, I have them help me with whatever I need to get done: dishes, laundry, pick up rooms, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, sweeping, etc. Knowing that they have to do a chore before choice time is a GREAT way to make them extend their activity time! (Why didn’t I think of this before???)

5. Read to Me: Just for Elliot

Elliot isn’t as motivated as his sisters to read independently, so I like to have some checks and balances in place to ensure that I have him read to me every day. Sometimes he reads word lists, sometimes he does flashcards, and sometimes he reads a book.

6. Choice Time: Might be short or long depending on how the day is going

I usually try to make the choice time of the older ones coincide with either the nap time or educational video time for the little ones. This is when I like to prepare or clean up lunch, get dinner ready, make kombucha or sourdough muffins, clean up, call a friend, take a shower, blog, or whatever!

7. Repeat as Needed: See how the day is going

I can make as many variations of this routine as needed based on how my day is going. If we’ve still got lots of time left, I’ll say three more activities and a chore before choice time again. But if time is short and moods are testy, I might say one activity or we might go right into an educational choice. Not having time limits or too strict of rules gives me the flexibility to get through the day based on what works for me.

8. Driving to School: Screen time optional

We have a computer set up in our van so that the kids can watch programs while we drive, but we save this for long trips or when kids are really fussy. Most times, we just like to listen to music, look out the window, and talk.

9. After School: We’re flexible

Ruby loves to come home and have choice time right away. Sometimes she wants to play Pixie 4, sometimes she likes to do crafts, sometimes we go outside, and sometimes her and Elliot get right into some imagination games. (I have found it’s best for her to do her homework in the evening after dinner.) After she has been gone all day, I like her to be able to come home and have the freedom to do what she wants, and the rest of us sort of fall into place after that. I might put on some educational videos or let the kids have choice time if I have a lot of work to do, but sometimes we all go to the park, go outside, read books, etc.

10. Dinner: Music or educational choice

Now that Julian and Ophelia are finally able to sit down and eat with us instead of just nursing or grazing throughout the day, we have been enjoying more family meals where we listen to music while we eat and talk about our day. If Scott and I have a lot to do though, we might put on an educational show that all of the kids will enjoy.

11. After Dinner: Family time!

This is my favorite part of the day! Sometimes we all do a big family activity like playing music, playing board games, going outside, or reading together, and sometimes, we end up spreading out. Ruby loves doing crafts and being creative, and we like to spend some time coloring, writing stories, or playing together. Scott and Elliot like to bond while playing instruments together, building something, or reading. The little ones like toddling around joining in where they can. We might allow a bit of choice time here depending on the circumstances of the day.

12. Bedtime: Bedtime playlist

About an hour before bedtime, we get our pajamas on and start to migrate into our bedroom. We like to play this YouTube playlist while we help everyone get their pajamas on and cleaned up for the day (it keeps everyone in our room and triggers little brains into bedtime mode). Then Daddy wrestles with all of the kids while I finish tidying up the house. This is often the time when we work on Ruby’s homework. It’s all very calm and serene.

*Rules and Routines Over Breaks: Be clear about expectations

Read my blog about how we set up a summer routine here. When all the kids are home for the summer, I like to have things a bit more structured than I do over winter or spring break. I call it “homeschool summer school”, and everyone has goals that they’re working on and certain activities to keep them occupied.

What Happens When You Stray From Your Rules and Routines?

It is inevitable that you are going to stray from your rules and routines from time to time. Routines work best when there is a tremendous amount of consistency,  but once they are established, you can stray a bit and still get things back on track. The important thing is to explain why things were different.

There was a time when both Julian and Ophelia were getting their molars, for example, requiring me to spend copious amounts of time soothing them, and so I let Elliot have more choice time than I would have liked. It happened gradually, and then one day, I was like, “Uh-oh, I have let things go too far.” After that, I just explained to Elliot that I had needed to spend more time with Julian and Ophelia and had as a result let him have more choice time, but now that they weren’t teething anymore, we would be going back to normal.

This was really hard for him at first. He questioned me and tried to bargain with me every step of the way, “How bout just one activity mom?” And I so bad just wanted to give in to him because he’s such a good negotiator, but I didn’t. I’m not afraid of a tantrum or sulky behavior, and once I stuck to my guns and he knew that I would, he happily complied. I feel that kids really do like boundaries. It makes them feel safe, protected, and loved.

Taking Away Screen Time as Consequence

Screen time, and especially choice time, is what we like to categorize as a privilege. We talk to our kids about how they have certain rights such as food, clothes, shelter, etc. which we will always make sure they have, but that screen time is not necessary for survival and so it is a privilege. Therefore, if they are not behaving appropriately, it is a privilege that they can lose.

In Conclusion

When we spend time with our children monitoring what they watch, use, and do, I don’t really see why “screen time” should be any cause for concern. I think that the reality is that it’s not so much about screen time as it is about being able to set rules and boundaries with your children. If you’re looking for some tips and tricks for eliciting positive behaviors with your children based on what I learned both during my teaching and parenting experiences, check out my blog: Guiding Children Towards Positive Behaviors. If you’re convinced to start incorporating some educational choice time into your day with your little ones, check out these blogs:

Embracing Motherhood What We Watch Instead of TV

What We Watch Instead of TV

Ok, so you’ve connected your computer to your TV, now what? Is it possible to be entertained without a paid subscription to cable? Yes! You can certainly connect your TV to your computer and still enjoy your local channels or even a cable subscription, but when we got rid of those things, we found that we were much more purposeful about what we watched, we didn’t waste time flipping channels, we weren’t inundated with commercials, and we spent a lot less time in front of the TV. If you already have Internet in your home, choosing a couple of these options could even save you money!

Most of the following are things that we use, but I’ve also included a few other sources that I would recommend nonetheless and marked these with an *.

1. YouTube

YouTube usually has full length features of the programs we like watching like John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. We also like watching Ted Talks and basically videos about whatever we’re interested in learning about. And of course, who can resist funny cat videoshilarious Japanese pranks, and our favorite music videos! We love showing the kids educational videos like this preschool playlist and now YouTube has a YouTube Kids app that we put on our tablets and phones.

In order to enjoy watching videos on YouTube without ads, you will first want to download the Chrome browser and then download Ad Blocker (Chrome is the only browser that will support Ad Blocker). Without blocking ads, I’m not really sure how good of an experience this would be.

They are now promoting YouTube Red where for $9.95/month, you can have an ad free experience as well as download your favorite videos to watch anytime.

2. Netflix

For $9.95/month, we enjoy streaming movies, TV shows, documentaries, and more on Netflix. I love how when I’m not sure what to watch, I can check out a certain genre and browse for ideas. The kids love using the kids login page, and they get great ideas for new shows to watch based on shows they have already enjoyed.

3. PBS

On PBS, you can watch any program (like my favorite, Call the Midwife) under programs, and check out other great programs sorted by topic. You can create an account (for free) that will let you save your favorite programs and keep a viewing history. Go to PBS Kids to watch all children’s programs. It’s laid out so that children can navigate very easily and there are games to play as well. Everything is educational, fun, and there are no commercials!

4. Other Network Stations

You can go to any network affiliate such as ABC, NBC, FOX, as well as pretty much any other station, and watch all current episodes online. If you want to watch older episodes, you’ll have to have a paid cable subscription, and in any case, you’ll still be bombarded by commercials, but at least you won’t be forced to watch your favorite program only at the time it is “on the air”.

*5. Amazon Prime Video

We have Amazon Prime (free 2 day shipping for $99/yr), and so while we get do Amazon Prime Video for free, we never really use it because it’s just not as kid friendly as Netflix. But I do know many people who enjoy watching it.

*6. Hulu

We don’t personally subscribe to this, but I know other people who have given up their cable subscriptions and enjoy this instead. Not only can you get your favorite TV shows, but Showtime originals and popular movies as well. You can check out a free trial here, otherwise, you’ll pay $7.99/mo. for limited commercials and $11.99/mo. for no commercials.

7. Pandora

No, we don’t watch Pandora, but we love having it on in the background and watching our itunes visualizer (on mute). It makes for a nice background, kind of like a fireplace. 🙂

8. Free Streaming Sports

Most people who don’t want to give up their cable TV will cite “sports” as the number one reason why. This page shows all the televised sporting events happening on any given day. At the top of  the page you can sort this enormous list by type of sport (or you can just hit ctrl+F and  search the whole page to find the event you are looking for, i.e. ‘Lions’ or ‘Olympics’).

This site is pretty wild, though. It doesn’t like AdBlocker, so you should turn it off  before visiting this page. Of course this allows the page to blow up all kinds of pop up ads. The trick here is to find the little “x” on each pop up over the video stream so you can remove all the ads between you and the free stream. This is kind of a cultural adventure as well, since most of these stream come from broadcast stations in other countries, so you can experience their commercial and local news bumpers, as well as their native commentary on the game (which in the case of, say the Super Bowl, is pretty entertaining).  Vipbox Sports pretty much does the same thing.

9. Kodi

Kodi is on the more advanced side of things. It is basically a free media player/server, but most of the functionality of this program is unnecessary for most home users. The reason I am even mentioning it is that it has an amazing array of  free TV channels from the US and around the world where you can browse on-demand videos on your computer. This is how we first discovered “Dora in the City” (Dora grown up) and HGTV shows like “Cake Boss” and “We are shopping  for a house in the Virgin Islands” or something like that – totally fun!

In Conclusion

I highly recommend connecting your TV to your computer and getting rid of your cable subscription (or keep it and do both). It’s not as hard as you think it would be, and once you get through the set up and adjustment period, you will love it! There are TONS of resources online and once you start doing this, you will find that you become more purposeful and more selective about what you and your family watches. In an era where technology threatens to take over all of our free time and interactions, this is definitely a good thing.

Embracing Motherhood How to Connect Your TV to a Computer

How to Connect a TV to a Computer

Connecting our TV to our computer is something that we have been doing for so long that sometimes I just assume that everyone else does it too! Yes, my husband is a techy computer guy, but this is so easy anyone can do it! Not only that, but most people have 99% of what they need to make this work in their house right now.

But why would anyone want to connect their TV to their computer anyways?

Here are the benefits we have enjoyed:

  • Not paying for a cable subscription
  • Not wasting time with channel flipping
  • No exposure to commercials
  • Ability to watch all of our home movies on our TV
  • Ability to access all of our downloaded files
  • Ability to be purposeful about what we watch with Netflix, YouTube, PBS, and more (Check out what we watch instead of TV in my blog here.)

How to Connect Your TV to Your Computer

If you have a newer laptop or desktop computer (post 2007) and an HD TV (post 2005), this will be a very easy set up. I am going to explain the two basic set ups which are:

  1. Connecting your TV to a laptop
  2. Connecting your TV to desktop computer

If you have an older TV or computer/laptop, I will cover some of your options in the FAQs and/or you can check out this very handy tutorial that will walk you through exactly what you need to do, and this article can help to fill in the gaps.

Option 1: Laptop to TV

If you have a newer laptop and a newer HD TV, all you need is one cable and you’ll be set to go!

 

Laptop to TV Connection

Laptop to TV Connection

Pros: Very easy set up with just one cable, easy to disconnect and use as just a laptop again meaning that you only need one computer, doesn’t take up much room, won’t turn off if the power gets turned off

Cons: Can be more expensive, ties a laptop down instead of letting it roam free (albeit temporarily), not the best permanent option, this is not the option we use…see the next section

Materials Needed

  • Suggested TV:  This is just a sample of what you might want to get. You can really get any HD TV and it will work perfectly fine. Just make sure it has an HDMI port, which just about any newer TV will have, and stay away from LG Electronics, they display computer graphics terribly. Also, don’t waste your money buying a computer monitor for this purpose. It’s not worth it.
  • Recommended Laptop: At $167, this Lenovo 100s will do everything you need and more. While this is the best and cheapest option currently available, you can make just about anything work. Just make sure any laptop you get has an HDMI port.
  • HDMI to HDMI Cable: You can get a shorter or a longer cable depending on your needs.
  • *For Mac Users: If you have a Mac with a mini display port/thunderbolt, you’ll want this cable.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Or get a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse if you want to get really fancy.

Directions

  1. Laptop HDMI: Connect the HDMI cable to your laptop.

    hdmi port on a laptop

    HDMI Port on a Laptop

  2. TV HDMI: Connect the other end of the HDMI cable to your TV.

    HDMI Port on TV

    HDMI Port on TV

  3. Using Just the Laptop: The easiest thing would be to use the keyboard and mousepad on your laptop to navigate, unplug it when you’re done, and there you go!
  4. Adding a Keyboard and Mouse: Plug in a keyboard and mouse or get a wireless keyboard and mouse. (The wireless option is MUCH more convenient, but you WILL lose them from time to time!)
  5. Permanent Set Up: For a more permanent set up, adjust the power settings on your laptop to allow it to stay on while it’s closed. (Learn how to do that here.) Close it, and put it somewhere out of the way. (*Note: We have used laptops with broken screens for this, and it totally works.)

Option 2: Desktop Computer to TV

If you have a newer desktop computer and a newer HD TV, all you need is one cable and you’ll be set to go.

This is the set up we have in our living room. We put the TV on a table (so the kids can’t touch it) and cover it with a big piece of fabric so that everything is concealed. We built a little table to make storage more organized and keep all of our gaming stuff under here too.

Our TV Connected to a Computer

Our TV Connected to a Computer

Pros: Very easy set up with just one cable, perfect for a permanent set up, easy to keep external hard drives connected for more storage, cheapest option

Cons: Turns off if the power goes out, not ideal if this is your only computer…unless you go with a much smaller TV, and/or set up a dual monitor system

Materials Needed

  • Suggested TV: This is just a sample of what you might want to get, and it’s the same recommendation for a laptop set up. You can really get any HD TV and it will work perfectly fine. Just make sure it has an HDMI port (any newer TV will have this) and stay away from LG Electronics, they display computer graphics terribly. Also, don’t waste your money buying a computer monitor for this purpose. It’s not worth it.
  • Recommended ComputerThis mini desktop computer has everything you need and more for just $145! It’s small, has 32 GB of storage, has bluetooth, and plenty of USB ports for connecting to an external hard drive if you need more than 32 GB of storage.
  • HDMI to HDMI Cable: You can get a shorter or a longer cable depending on your needs.
  • *For Mac Users: If you have a Mac with a mini display port/thunderbolt, you’ll want this cable.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Or you can get a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse if you want to get really fancy.

Directions

  1. Computer HDMI: Connect the HDMI cable to your computer tower.

    hdmi port desktop computer

    HDMI Port on a Desktop Computer

  2. TV HDMI: Connect the other end of the HDMI cable to your TV.

    HDMI Port on TV

    HDMI Port on TV

  3. Keyboard and Mouse: Plug in a keyboard and mouse or get a wireless keyboard and mouse. (The wireless option is MUCH more convenient, but you WILL lose them from time to time!)
  4. Speakers: The TV speakers should work just fine in this set up, but you could always get some even better like these speakers…your choice!

FAQs

  1. What if my laptop or desktop computer doesn’t have an HDMI port? Look to see if it has a DVI port, and if so, get a cable like this. The DVI (Digital Video Interface) cable does not carry sound, so you’ll also need an audio cable to connect to your TV speakers.

    dvi and vga ports on computer

    DVI and VGA Ports on a Computer

  2. What if my laptop or desktop computer doesn’t have an HDMI or DVI port? All laptops and computers will at least have a VGA (Video Graphics Adapter) port. Unfortunately, there is no VGA to HDMI cable, and even if you find one, it won’t work. Basically, the VGA port is outdated and won’t work in this situation. What you’ll need to do instead is either just buy a new laptop or desktop computer or buy something like this that you can plug into your USB drive and create an HDMI port, but it’s $60, and for $150 you could actually buy a basic computer that has everything you need.
  3. What about those TVs for sale that have computer options built in? You can get a “Smart TV” like this, and if all you want to do is watch Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube, then it’s a pretty good option. But if you want to watch any of your own files, you’re better off just wiring a regular old TV to your computer.
  4. Are there any wireless options?  Just like with the “Smart TV” options, if all you want to do is watch online TV and none of your own files, this is a pretty good option. You can get the Amazon Fire TV Stick for $40, a Roku Streaming Stick for $40, Google Chromecast for $35, and Apple TV for $150 if you have a Mac just to name a few.
  5. Is there any way to keep my cable AND connect my TV to a computer? Yes. All you have to do is hit the input button on your remote to select the correct input and you can have both! Your cable should come in as “TV” and your computer will come in as “HDMI 1” (or something like that). This is also how you would select your gaming system.

In Conclusion

I highly recommend connecting your TV to your computer. It’s not as hard as you think it would be, and once you get through the set up and adjustment period, you will love it! There are TONS of resources online and once you start doing this, you will find that you become more purposeful and more selective about what you and your family watches. In an era where technology threatens to take over all of our free time and interactions, this is definitely a good thing.

*Check out my blog: What We Watch Instead of TV to see how we stay entertained without a cable subscription.

Embracing MotherhoodWhy We Shouldn't Ban Screen Time for Children...Especially for Children Under Two

Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time for Children…Especially for Children Under Two

I know that as parents, we want what’s best for our children. New parents especially, who have the time and resources, will research endlessly trying to look for the best solutions for everything related to parenting. But what all new parents will find, is that the answers are not easily found. Whenever you uncover one answer, it will lead to another question. The most important thing we can learn is how to find the answers that do in fact make us better – better people, better parents, better thinkers, better guides…just better – and then, weed out the answers that don’t.

What the American Academy of Pediatrics Says

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screen time be banned for children under two and that it should be limited for all children regardless of their age. I’ve never been one to just believe something because one institution or another makes a sweeping generalization about something that ALL people must do, and this was no exception. But eventually curiosity got the best of me and I decided to do some research about what exactly they are saying and why they are saying it, and this is what I learned.

First of all, I looked at The American Academy of Pediatrics, and this is what they have to say about screen time, “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” They claim that excessive media can lead to attention problems, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity and that the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors. They suggest  that we should turn off the tv during dinner, limit screen time for older children and instead encourage children to read newspapers, play board games, play outdoors, do hobbies, and use their imaginations in free play.

Why I’m Not Buying it

I agree that children’s brains are developing rapidly. (Check out my blog How Children Really Learn to Read to see what I suggest doing with their rapid brain development.) And because of this, I believe in exposing children to all kinds of learning opportunities, including screen time. Appropriately used screen time can be an amazing teaching tool!

There is just something extremely disturbing to me about a large, revered, and somewhat feared institution making a claim of this magnitude. Ban ALL screen time for the first two years? Really? I mean, it’s just absurd! So no educational playlists, no ABC videos, no nursery rhymes, no home movies, no educational apps, no family movie night, no exposure whatsoever to something that is a part of our daily lives and that we as adults use constantly? Are we supposed to segregate our children from our lives completely in order to prevent them from the evils of technology? This sounds a bit archaic and very fear based to me.

I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to acknowledge that our children will not only encounter technology at some point, but that it will be an ever increasing part of their lives as we continue to make technological advancements and that we should teach them not only how to navigate it but how to choose the good over the bad? How to enjoy the educational over the mundane? How to use it in a positive way? But that doesn’t make for a very good slogan does it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics must assume that everyone is stupid and so instead of making a recommendation about filtering the input we expose our children to (and why do we need an institution to tell us, “don’t show your kids inappropriate content” anyways?) they say just ban it all. Ban it all, because it’s obviously a choice of one or the other. We will either park our children in front of the TV, computer, ipad, or cell phone all day every day, or we will interact and talk with them, encourage them to play outside, and model behaviors that will lead to healthy choices and lifestyles, and so they say that we must choose the latter.

What Do the Studies Say?

First of all, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that “studies show”, but doesn’t link to any studies. Where are the studies? So I did some research and found an excellent data source through the Kaiser Family Foundation. They did a meta study of all of the research ever done about children and electronic media from the 1960s to 2005. Because ipads and such are so new, there hasn’t been enough time to conduct any significant longitudinal studies, but what this meta study found about electronic media up until 2005 is pretty interesting. They also conducted a phone survey with 1,065 parents, and although I think phone surveys are pretty ridiculous, this one pointed to some interesting information. So here’s what they found.

The phone survey found that 65% of children live in a home where the the TV is on at least half the time or more, even if no one is watching it and 36% of children live in a home where the TV is left on all of the time regardless if anyone is watching it. They also learned that most kids watch TV and are exposed to media, most kids have some kind of rules about how much TV they watch, and most kids are watching TV with a parent in the room. According to the parents in this survey, kids spend about 2 hours per day watching TV, 2 hours playing outside, and about 40 minutes per day reading.

The meta study was the most fascinating because after analyzing the salient points, I am surprised that the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t issue a statement requiring parents to have their children watch at least so many hours of educational programming per day. Here are some of the highlights about educational programming:

  • Viewing of educational programs like Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Dragontales, Arthur, and Clifford for children between the ages of 6 months to 30 months of age had accelerated language growth whereas children who viewed adult programming had reduced vocabularies.
  • Children who watched Blue’s Clues scored better on problem solving and flexible thinking than children who did not.
  • When preschoolers who watched educational programming were studied once again in high school, they had higher grades and read more books than those who did not watch educational programming.
  • In low income homes, educational viewing at ages 2 and 3 predicted school readiness.

But what about the negative aspects of TV viewing? What evidence could the American Academy of Pediatrics point to that would link electronic media to obesity and  sleep disorders? Here is what I found:

  • The likelihood of obesity in low income multi-ethnic children ages 1-5 increased for each hour of TV or video viewed.
  • Body fat and body mass index increased most between children ages 4-11 who watched the most TV.
  • 40% of children had a TV in their bedroom and were more likely to watch more TV and more likely to be obese.
  • Advertising and its effects on consumerism in children has been a continuing concern since the 1970s because very young children are unable to recognize the persuasive intent of advertising.
  • Children (average age of four years) preferred specific foods advertised.
  • Viewing frightening programming raised children’s heart rates and caused PTSD symptoms.

There is another phone study that claims to show the negative impact of baby DVDs for children under two, but all it does is show how completely horrible Baby Einstein videos are…and yes, they are terrible. Just try watching one for a few minutes and you will immediately lose a few IQ points. (To see an example of the type of quality programming for young children like the Your Baby Can Read videos, check out this video that my husband and I made.)

What Do the Studies Mean?

So, from what I can gather, the studies show that children who watch educational programming are better off than those who do not. This makes me wonder why the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t issue a statement encouraging parents to increase their children’s watching of educational programming rather than calling for a ban of all screen time.

Next, the studies make a correlation between the amount of TV that children watch and their levels of obesity. But when analyzing data and looking at correlations, you have to wonder when several factors involved, which is causing which. My best guess is that it’s not just the TV watching that’s leading to sedentary behavior that’s leading to obesity, but rather the massive amount of commercials geared towards manipulating children to want to consume copious amounts of sugary candy, cereals, and soft drinks as well as nutrient depleted fast foods and other such junk.

In our house, we never watch TV with commercials and so our kids are pretty much oblivious to the marketing. But I remember one time when my husband found some Internet channel that streamed old Nickelodeon programming from the 90s, and when the commercials came on, our kids were hooked! Luckily, when they begged us for BubbleTape and Gushers we knew that they wouldn’t be able to find them anywhere. 🙂

Maybe you SHOULD consider banning the use of screen time in your home if you do the following:

1. Keep the TV on all day long, even if no one is watching it, and never worry about the content of what your children are watching.

2. Let your children watch whatever they want regardless of how appropriate it is or if it causes nightmares. What’s wrong with blood, gore, killing, bad language, mature content, and clowns who hide in sewers waiting to snatch children anyways?

3. Don’t worry about your children’s exposure to commercials. Also, when they ask you to buy them the food and toys from the commercials, do it immediately!

4. Never watch TV with your kids, and never talk to them about what they are watching.

5. Let children keep TVs in their bedrooms and watch them before they go to bed. Don’t worry if they keep the TV on all night while they sleep either.

6. Instead of talking and interacting with your children or letting them go outside to play, just have them watch TV instead.

How to Use Screen Time Appropriately

1. Give up your cable subscription and be intentional about what your children watch. Learn about how to connect your TV to your computer here so you can access things like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube (find else what else we watch instead of TV here). And with the money you save from your cable subscription, you can buy entire seasons of your children’s favorite shows such as Dora, Blue’s Clues, Preschool Prep, The Magic School Bus and other educationally based programming!

2. Find a few educational programs to watch over and over again. Children don’t need a ton of variety, and you want your kids to feel a little bored with the content so that they aren’t begging for it all the time. Plus, you want to know that they are at least learning something from watching it, even if it’s just a little bit of Spanish, or story structure.

3. Do whatever you can to limit your children’s exposure to commercials. If and when they do see commercials, talk to them about the persuasive techniques advertisers use to get them to buy their products.

4. Watch programs with your children and talk to them about what they are watching. Especially when they watch something for the first time.

5. Keep TVs and computers in common areas where you can monitor what they watch and how much they’re watching. Once you are familiar with what your children are watching, I think it’s fine to have them watch it on their own. Sometimes you just need kids to be entertained for a little while so you can get a few things done!

6. Allow plenty of time for talking and interacting with your children and encourage them to play outside instead of letting them sit in from of the TV all day every day. Saying that screen time should be banned because human interaction is better is just absurd because it’s not an either or situation. If we’re talking about extremes here, then would it be best for parents to have face to face time with their child for every minute of every day? Doesn’t that sound just as absurd as children being in front of a TV all day? (Well, maybe not as absurd, but still absurd.) Do you think that as parents you can exhibit some moderation and self control and maybe not have the only options to be no screen time or only screen time? Isn’t there some sort of middle ground that can be achieved without the government having to step in and tell you what to do?

7. Encourage a balance and set limits if you have to. I used to have this vision that I would let our kids have as much screen time as they want, and they would choose to have a balance…but that was not the case! I have since implemented some rules like: 1) While eating, they can only watch something educational 2) They have to do three activities (playing with legos, coloring, playing imagination games, etc.) before having choice time (watching TV, playing video games, playing ipads) 3) The limits I set on how long choice time is depends on what I need to get done. Also, if they did three quick activities, I might say that they have to have an educational choice like one of these educational apps.

In Conclusion

The main point here is that it’s all about moderation. As parents, we have to moderate a lot of things in the lives of our children. There aren’t always (or ever?) times when things are just black and white. It is our job to sift through the gray and find things that work best for us, our family, our lives, and our children. So take the time to do the research yourself, see what works for your family through trial and error, but don’t blindly accept the fate doled out to you by some institution who only sees things in black and white.

If you agree that exposing children to educational programming (with limits), you might like the following blogs: