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Securing Atlanta's Future Thought Leadership

Virtual Learning, Screen Time and Early Learners: How Much is Too Much?

By Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO, Sheltering Arms

We are eight months into the pandemic and are continuing to make shifts in how we live, how we communicate and how we learn.  Although businesses and schools have reopened, many people are still working from home while trying to figure out how to manage virtual learning and entertainment for their children. 

Many of the schools in the U.S., including early learning centers, are engaged in some form of virtual learning. For years, we’ve heard of the dangers of screen time, especially for early learners. 

Now, we have come face-to-face with the reality that technology is indeed a necessity, and that children’s screen time will increase. They are in front of the screen practically all day, when you factor in school time and entertainment.

Sheltering Arms recently hosted a thought leadership forum on this topic with the question: How much is too much? We were joined by early childhood education researchers and subject matter experts who shared their perspectives and advice for parents: Rebecca Parlakian, Senior Director of Programs, Zero to Three; Christa Payne, Director of Public Health, Rollins Center for Language & Literacy; Michael Robb, Senior Director of Research, Common Sense Media; and Laura Zimmerman, Founder & President, Tech Play Collaborative.

Here are a couple of key takeaways from the discussion:

  • All screen time is not bad screen time. Laura Zimmerman shared that children’s learning can be enhanced through a variety of transmedia material like apps, online games, videos and video chat, a useful tool for building and sustaining early relationships.

Rebecca Parlakian added that parents have to understand their role when it comes to early screen use for their children. This is a critical time to actively engage with them – talk with them about what they are learning and help them make connections.

To share a different perspective, Michael Robb mentioned that, when taking a child’s full day of a child into consideration, the key is to make sure he/she is engaged in a variety of quality activity in general – from being physically active and getting good nutrition to reading and having good social time with family.

  • Adults have to be mindful of “technoference” when around children. This refers to technological interference with human relationships. We have all experienced times when we were preoccupied while staring at a phone or tablet and did not hear someone speaking to us or asking a question. 

Christa Payne shared studies showing that when parent interaction is down, children’s play is less complex, less mature and children are learning fewer words.

Ultimately, the goal for every family is to find the balance that works for them. The question is not how much is too much. The focus must shift to the quality of online engagement and interaction rather than quantity. 

Some of the online resources shared by our panelists for parents are: Wide Open School, Zero to Three Screen Sense, Cox Campus and PBS KIDS Learn & Grow.


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