In our recent posts - Educational Apps - How to Pick Them and A great learning app for kids - we talked a lot about what makes a good app. We also looked at how to manage your family's screen time. Today we're talking about playing apps together. About making screen time a shared experience.
Screen time is not what's bad for kids
Any brief survey of the studies on screen time will quickly lead you to the conclusion that screen time in itself is not what's bad for our kids. We've talked before about how to choose good content for your children's screen time. But what about how that screen time happens? What about considering a real game changer?
In extracts from her book The Art of Screen Time : How your family can balance digital media and real life Anya Kamenetz discusses treating an app like a picture book :
"If a form of media — a book, a song, a YouTube video of a great horned owl, a drawing app, an episode of Bob’s Burgers — supports a positive interaction
between a caregiver and a child, that’s a net gain for that child. This is called “parental mediation of media.” And it’s effective throughout childhood."
In other words, apps are something to share and discover with our children!
Changing the game
This is a major game changer for a lot of us. Who hasn't used an app or a tv show to keep their kids busy? Stuart Dredge writing on medium.com talks about this realization after reading an Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University study based on interviews with 20, 000 parents on screen time and media use :
"I’d often been treating my children’s screen time as time when I could get other stuff done (like cooking dinner, unloading the
washing machine, or working)."
Furthermore, he noted that when he started expressing an interest in joining his kids for their screen time, it was surprising "how pleased they were". Playing apps, watching tv shows or movies, playing video games could all be times when children experience a positive interaction with their caregivers. It could be a time for building family connections and helping them learn.
Becoming bridge builders
In fact, caregivers can
"be a bridge to transfer any learning an app has to the real world"
That's a quote from Christine Elgersma, senior editor of parent education at Common Sense Media. For her it is co-use and co-play that are
"the most powerful ways that apps can be educational"
So if playing apps with our kids can be such a positive experience, how can we get the most out of it? Here are some of our ideas on how best to get "actively engaged in exploring the digital world together".
Take time to Sit down
and Co-play together
In the same way we make time to read books with our kids, we need to make time to explore the apps we choose for them together. Why not pick a specific time and make it a date just as you might for a movie night?
Just because apps are digital toys doesn't mean we can't enjoy playing with them with our kids. And playing with our kids is really important. According to Psychology Today, parent-child play
"is linked with the child’s competence, gross motor skills, peer group leadership and cognitive development"
That's big, important stuff! To be a good playmate when exploring an app with your kids be sure not to take over! Try not to intervene too much, your role is more to observe, to listen and to talk things over if they get stuck or solicit your help. For more tips on how to do this with our app check out our app page's Top Tips on How to Play Inside the Human Body with Kids.
One of the best ways we can make app time more of a social experience is by starting a conversation. Why not ask kids to describe what's happening or what they see?
Starting a conversation can also happen if you weren't able to find time to co-play. Although co-play may be a wonderful thing we all know that the reality is parent's are busy. And that means sometimes, kids will play apps by themselves.
So why not ask them some questions about what they've been playing? Can they tell you what the app does? Or share something they did with you? Perhaps something they learned? Just like you'd ask a friend or partner about a film they went to see or a book they read, why not do the same with you kids about the apps they're using?
Be a Bridge between the App and the Real World
When parents, teachers and other caregivers get involved with the apps their kids are playing with, they can help them see the connection between the screen world and the real world. Now you know what the app's about, why not use it as a springboard into the real world!
You can do this by drawing connections between the app experience and things in their real lives. Why not bring children's attention to books on the same subject? Check out our post on books about the human body to springboard learning with Inside the Human Body.
Or why not take them to a relevant museum exhibit or art exhibition? Playing with our human body app for example might inspire a visit to your local science or natural history museum. Another idea would be to use what kids are learning from an app to inspire an art project or a report. Body art inspired by the circulatory system? Or how about a poster of fantastic heart facts?
To conclude Co-Playing Apps is the way forward and the way to do it is simple even if sometimes it can seem very difficult. Take time, be open-minded and encourage curiosity! Screen time is here to stay and educational apps offer us a wonderful learning opportunity, it is to us as parents, educators and caregivers to get the best out of this resource. We hope this article will help you do just that!