By: Alicia Pringle
As parents/caregivers, we are constantly trying to manage our time between family schedules, running errands, cleaning, cooking, banking, time with the kids, school functions, free time, social time and time for ourselves (ha.. like that ever happens).
The list of things to do is endless.
With that comes the added pressures of making sure our kids are engaged, educated, given the best toys and books, the healthiest food, adequate outdoor time, social time with friends and the dreaded “limiting screen time.” A simple internet search will give you countless articles about how “too much screen time is bad” and “1 hour a day is the max,” but “don’t be so rigid, be flexible, let them choose”, oh but “don’t let them pick THAT!” (Does your head hurt?! Just thinking about it makes my head hurt!)
Well, I’m here to tell you, in my humble opinion, these are unprecedented times! And they call for unprecedented measures!
Since our lives have been flipped upside down, our emotions are high, our social life is limited (or in some cases non-existent) and with that, our entire family’s lives have changed in the blink of an eye. Our old “rules” are out the window and we are forced to write a new rulebook. With our kids pushed head-first into online classrooms and lots of parents now working from home remotely, some still working their regular days while their children can’t go to school or daycare and some not working at all; but for most of us, the internet has become our only real form of social connection. It has suddenly become harder than ever to limit screen time for ourselves and our kids. I think as parents/caregivers, what we are all searching for is quality content for our kids to engage in, something that lessens that pang of guilt we feel when you look over and realize your kid has been staring at a screen for 30 minutes and the silence is wonderful (it really is a wonderful sound sometimes). Below I’m going to share some awesome apps and games (FREE!) you can use to make the most of your screen time, when you don’t have to be using it for school or work!
With social distancing comes new ways of strengthening connections through screens. Some of my favourite social connection apps are FaceTime (for Apple) or Google Duo (for Android), a way to video chat with friends or family through your smartphone or tablet. I have also recently discovered the Houseparty App, it can be used on any device and you can use it for group video chats with family and friends AND you can play games such as Heads Up, Trivia and more. There are also some kid friendly apps like Facebook Messenger Kids which is a way for kids to connect with their friends and it is monitored and controlled by the parent’s Facebook Page for security!
Since many businesses across the country (and the world!) have closed in recent weeks, many of them have taken unique routes to keeping people engaged, such as Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. They have a live video feed in the Shark Tank where you can watch the sharks, sting rays, turtles and fish. The San Diego Zoo has a great kid’s webpage with live cameras all around the zoo where you can watch the different animals. They have an array of games, videos, stories and activities for the whole family, all for free.
For younger kids, there are some great free apps such as LetterSchool- Learn to Write. Kids can learn to write letters and numbers in this interactive game (they even have cursive writing!). My 4 year old has loved this app since he was 2 and still plays it. For Android or for Apple.
You can also search for your favourite children’s stories on YouTube. This is especially wonderful if you’re a family who likes to go to the library as much as we do. Since we can’t go and get new books every week, there’s always something to read along or listen to. Our favourite story is The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson; this version is read by Alan Mandel. Speaking of the library, the Kingston Frontenac Public Library has a collection of ebooks for the entire family and all you need is your library card number and PIN. Currently it is through OverDrive but beginning May 27, 2020 they will make the switch to cloudLibrary.
In my house, our favourite games to play are on PBS Kids. The website has all your favourite PBS Kids shows with tons of interactive games and activities. For example, my 4 year old and 2 year old LOVE Dinosaur Train, that section of the website has 19 different games and a section called ‘Field Guide’ where you can learn about different dinosaurs, what they look like, when they lived and fun facts. I enjoy these games because they teach lots of different things such as weight, size, shapes and numbers. Fun and educational!
One other fun app I recently found is called Go Noodle where you can search for songs for your kids to follow along and dance to. There is everything from mainstream hits to kids songs (yes baby shark is on there) to mindful meditation and relaxation videos. Lastly, if you’re looking for something to wind down with the kiddos, check out Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube, there’s something for everyone with Dinosaurs, Princesses, Spiderman, Butterflies and my personal favourite.. Harry Potter themed yoga!
Wherever you fall on the limiting screen-time debate, I think we can all agree, it is a wonderful gift to share the quality programs that we find in this enormous sea we call the internet.
My two little loves playing Dinosaur Train Games and listening to songs!