25 October 2018 - 2:23pm

Montessori Australia recently hosted the “Montessori for the Digital Age Forum” featuring the noted digital parenting educator Dr Kristy Goodwin.  In her workshop entitled “Plugged-in Childhoods”, Montessori leaders and educators were given evidence-based research and practical information about raising healthy children in the digital world.  We present some of her tips here and would encourage parents to visit her website http://drkristygoodwin.com 

One of the most frequently asked question from parents in relation to their children’s lifestyles seems to be “how much screen time is safe for my child?”.  Dr Goodwin explains that as we don’t yet have tested screen time limits that are deemed ‘healthy’, we look towards recommendations from informed sources, such as the Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (2017) which calls for no screentime for 0-2 year olds and less than 1hr/day for 3-5 year olds.  A more recent cross-sectional study supported the recommendation for children aged 8–11 years of 2hrs or less per day.  Sadly, research shows our children spend increasing more than this.  

However, Dr Goodwin says that we don’t need to fixate over the exact amount of time a child spends with a screen, rather, that parents and professionals should ensure that screen time isn’t displacing a child’s developmental priorities. “Preschoolers need opportunities to hear and use language as much as possible, to play outside (green time) and in unstructured ways, be physically active, to get enough sleep and to form relationships (face-to- face interactions). After these basic needs are met, then there’s time for screens.”  This certainly resonates to us as Montessorians.

Research tells us that toddlers learn less from TV and touch screens than from live demonstrations because it’s difficult for them to understand how information depicted on a screen relates to the real world.  There is also a substantial body of research that has shown that age-appropriate and well-designed TV programs can actually help preschoolers learn. As Montessorians, we know that young children are constructing themselves through sensorial and experimental interactions with the real world. Providing young children with access to these experiences is a developmental priority. 

A basic healthy screen habit recommended to parents is the adherence of the following as tech-free places: bedrooms, to reduce the risk of compromising sleep and for cyber-safety; play areas to reduce distractions to play; meal areas, to preserve conversation and interaction; bathrooms; and short car trips.  While it may be tempting to hand over a digital device to young children when in restaurants or cafes as a distraction, this limits the opportunity to practice their social skills and engaging in conversation.  As parents (and educators) we are encouraged to be the pilot of the digital plane and avoid using screens as a ‘digital pacifier’.

Dr Goodwin has more information for parents on her website on topics such as techno-tantrums and cyber-safety, or you may like to consider her book Raising Your Child in a Digital World.