Learning from 2-5 year olds: active play and screen time
When I read a recent survey that found that youngsters between the ages of 2 and 5 spend about as much time on a screen than at a real playground, I knew that research like this was on the radar of parents, too. While some may not notice the smaller screentime in front of, what are they actually doing in front of all the time?
It’s true that those 2-5 year olds may have too much screen time. But does that mean they’re not engaging with each other in an active way? Not necessarily. Socialization is an increasingly important skill to learn, and active play is a gateway to lessons such as social sensitivity, social skills, and kindness. No idle passing around of the virtual ball, but instead face-to-face interaction that builds social relationships.
Active play stimulates and enriches one’s social interactions and relationships. It’s a good way to establish social skills that become much easier to teach in preschool. Don’t just think your preschool kids are playing alone but rather playing safely and creatively in their environment, learning empathy and conflict resolution skills.
Social learning and social emotional development become more important at each year of life. While physical health becomes more important as kids grow, social and emotional wellness becomes a major predictor of academic success. There is a critical need for active play in today’s age of distraction, where screens are linked to social isolation, and social learning skills are needed most to thrive.
The more time a toddler and preschooler spends alone together, the more time they spend in front of a screen. This isolation creates higher risk for risks such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. This alone should be reason enough to intervene, helping families develop strategies to break up screen time.
4. Learning to Participate
It’s a well-known fact that children who spend more time interacting with one another on an ongoing basis and engaging in self-directed activities like reading, writing, singing, and playing outside are much more likely to pursue academic interests and embrace school, to succeed in class, and to feel better overall. Getting children involved in their environment at an early age gives them control over their time and reduces what we refer to as the behavioral risks to their development.
Children learn how to engage in educational activities and participate, as well as how to independently share and work as a team. The more those things are established, the less likely the child is to be early or mired in academic activity that is solo. Active play is always the best antidote to the time spent in front of screens.
This information is important, but it’s not the whole picture. There is no question that these children are very active, having grown up in a world where technology is present everywhere. But there are signs that these children are using technology to their advantage, and that they are taking advantage of technology to learn, teach, help each other, and find enjoyment in the present.
Anya Kamenetz is a University of Illinois professor of child and adolescent development, a globally recognized parenting expert, author of two New York Times best-selling books, and founder of Learn2Code. You can follow her on Twitter @anyaKamenetz.