How We Manage Screen Time at Home

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One thing we as parents have discussed a number of times is how to manage screen time at home. It’s tricky mostly because it’s constantly evolving! With different ages, school needs, and family time, it definitely feels like an evolution more than a single decision.

We’ve never done a ton of screen time in our family, but it’s definitely changed a bit over the years. Here’s how our family is currently managing screen time at home!

Why We Limit Screen Time at Home

The biggest reason we limit screen time in our home is because it’s EASIER for US! That is something personal to our family and I 100% don’t judge other families who do things differently.

For my kids, when we watch screens, they tend to want more screens. They want to keep it on for longer or watch just a little more. They tend to be grouchier after if we watch for too long. And it takes away time from all the other things we want to do during the day!

To me, it’s just easier to basically not have shows at all instead of having just a little each day. Since it’s never really been an option, my kids almost never ask to watch something during the day. The day still feels busy and like we don’t have enough time to fit in everything we want, so I’m very glad to not have to work in everything with the addition of screen time. And I LOVE not having to battle how much or how long or when to turn it off.

Screens Can Be Great, Too!

I do think it’s important to note that I don’t think all screen time is bad! We often hear about the ill effects of screens, but rarely the good.They can be so valuable in learning and connecting with experiences outside of our own. It’s an important part of the Global Children’s Book Club resources. And I love being able to turn on workout videos, Go Noodle, Cosmic Kids Yoga, dance parties, and more. It’s such a gift to be able to download e-books, especially while our libraries are closed.

But for me, I generally want screen time to be something that brings us together as a family, rather than something that encourages time apart. I love it for joint learning and connection and fun; I don’t love it for babysitting.

Again, this is personal to us and just what helps our home feel happier – it’s absolutely okay if that looks different for you!

Diversity from Screens

One big benefit of screens for us is providing more diverse experiences and perspectives in our home. Often if certain inclusive books aren’t available at our library, I can find a read aloud on YouTube. We can watch videos about other countries, or about systemic racism. We can watch speeches or hear about lives different from our own.

What We Do Instead of Screens

I often feel like we barely have enough time for everything in a day even without screens, so I don’t know where they would fit in! I’m sure there are plenty of people more efficient than we are who have lots of spare time, but alas, we seem to be slow. But it works fine for us to not need to fill extra time. I’m also VERY aware of our privilege in having these options available to us.

Here’s a lot of what we do instead of screens during the day:

Managing Screens for Technology Education

My kids do some tech education time anywhere from 0-3 times a week for about 15-20 minutes each time. I’m not super strict about enforcing when it needs to happen, especially during busier seasons (like during baseball season). If it happens, great! And if they miss it for a while, no big deal.

During this time, they can do two things:

Typing Programs for Kids

We love using Typing Club because it’s well set up in terms of teaching finger placement and letter progression. It’s also totally FREE! My 11, 9, and 7 year olds all do this program.

Coding Programs for Kids

It’s important to me that my kids become comfortable with coding. It’s something that, honestly, still feels pretty mysterious to me, and I think that’s largely because I’ve never had any practice with it. Kids absorb so much at a young age, so I want them to train their brains to at least not fear coding! I don’t care one bit if they become computer scientists but I would like them to not be intimidated by basic coding functions.

Here are some great coding resources we’ve found!

  • Code.org is a favorite FREE option that teaches the basics of coding
  • Music coding. This is one my oldest son did for a virtual church activity, and it’s been fun for them to create their own music and try to code simple songs they know! Also FREE.
  • Coding subscription box. We just got our first one of these boxes and I can’t wait to try it out!
  • Coding robot. This little coding robot has been such a fun addition for some hands on experience that’s not on a screen.
  • Python for kids. My oldest also likes using this book to create code on his own on the computer.
  • Scratch. This is another one we’ve been wanting to try that was developed by MIT. It allows kids to code fun things like stories and music and games. Also FREE!
  • CS Unplugged. This is another option that is screen-free that I’m hoping to try soon. It allows you to download all the teaching materials and lessons for FREE, and practice the concepts of building code.

How We Manage Screen Time for Reading

I feel like this is the piece that has varied the most over the years, especially as my kids have started reading longer books and as we’ve traveled in the RV. I used to be more of a stickler for reading physical books, but I’ve loosened up considerably.

My 11 & 9 year olds are avid readers and go through pages upon pages of books. It’s just so convenient to not need to keep track of tons of physical books. Ebooks also often have more reasonable wait times, and we can access them from a variety of libraries. We still do some physical books, but they read quite a few digital ones.

Each of my 3 older kids has a Kids Kindle, where I can send books straight from Libby. (We used to have a Kids Kindle Fire, but this is much more lightweight and better suited to our purposes since we only use it for reading.) This is PERFECT for travel as it’s lightweight and we can travel with tons of books without needing to carry all of them. It’s #1 on their travel backpack packing list. My 7 year old does still prefer physical books (he is my nonfiction lover and loves encyclopedic books about animals with images and lots of facts), but will also read on the Kindle.

So long as my kids are done with schoolwork and other household responsibilities from our family economy, and as long as they move their bodies outside for a sufficient amount of time, they can read for as long as they want on their Kindles. I don’t manage screen time for reading at all at this point in our family journey. The Kindles also are much easier on the eyes than other screens (it’s much more similar to reading a physical book), so it doesn’t feel like an issue at all for now.

Mostly, I’m just super grateful we have so many, many books available so quickly right at our fingertips!

Friday Family Movie Night

Almost every single Friday for the last several years, we’ve had family movie night. It’s such a fun and easy way to wind down from the week, and the kids think it’s the best thing ever. We usually watch a movie, but sometimes we’ll do a few of episodes of a show.

If we don’t finish the movie on Friday night, we’ll usually finish it sometime on Saturday. Sometimes we’ll watch something else short on Saturday night if we don’t have one to finish.

Here are some favorite family movies we’ve watched!

Sunday Family Photo Time

We sometimes try to review some family photos on Sunday nights. We’ll just pull up our Google Photos and pick a trip or experience or something and we’ll look at photos for maybe 10-15 minutes. It’s so fun to remember those memories as a family!

We have a projector in our family room, so we just project them onto a white wall so everyone can see.

Other Screen Time Usage

That’s mostly it for our screen time usage! We do FaceTime grandparents pretty regularly for a few minutes at a time, or they’ll swipe to the next song on the Google Home.

And occasionally, we’ll pull up some sort of National Geographic animal video or perhaps a Wild Kratts episode if everyone is done with what they need to do and we finish dinner early. I sometimes do this with my younger boys while my older two are at orchestra rehearsal one night a week – we finish instrument practice and chores and do baths and dinner early, and then watch some sort of animal thing for 20-30 minutes.

Overall, to me, screens are a great tool, and I want to keep them that way. I don’t want to be dependent on them, but rather enjoy having them be a part of our routine when we choose for them to. I want them to be used as a social tool, rather than as an individual one – to me, they should connect us more to each other, not less.

I’d love to hear how you manage screen time in your home, as well!

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