Children and digital devices

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As the digital revolution continues to expand, becoming a larger and larger part of children’s lives, parents often wonder how to set healthy guidelines for their children. This is true even for very young children, who often spend a great deal of time in front of televisions, iPads, and smart phone screens watching movies and playing games.  Increasingly, these shows, movies and games are aimed directly at young children.  Some of these are clearly not educational, while others are marketed as being good for brain development.  In any case, busy or exasperated parents often see screens as convenient ways to capture a child’s attention or even to divert from what might otherwise be some form of behavior disruptive to the parent (recall the common sight of children quietly watching movies at a restaurant).

While we all want our children to grow up with experience with digital devices and applications, we also want to insulate our children from the negative effects of excessive screen time.  A healthy person appreciates the value of electronic media, understands its use and its pitfalls, and maintains a balance of on- and off-line activities and interactions: a healthy mind, healthy body, and healthy relationships!

Setting expectations on digital exposure must begin early.   As important as it is to let young children explore quality learning games, it is also important to set time limits - short at first - and to ensure that digital media do not replace human interaction.   Ensuring meals are times for personal interaction - with no electronics allowed - is an important element of this.  

Schools also have a role in teaching children to have a healthy relationship with electronics and digital media.  Schools that utilize iPads for games or learning activities should be sure that these devices are put away after the activities are over, so that children don’t become overly dependent on them - this is especially true at younger ages.  Schools have the opportunity - and the obligation - to ensure that children develop a healthy relationship to devices and media that can be an incredible source of information and research.  When schools do this well, children are less likely to see electronic devices simply as playgrounds.  

As children get older, some parents will relent to their child’s pressure to let them have a smartphone, because it can be convenient for the parent to be able to call or track their child - but the longer the parent delays, the better for the child - most parents try to wait until middle school.  Children and adolescents quickly exhibit signs of addiction if they are given unlimited access to devices. Studies have shown this is more than a strong mental attachment; interacting with video games causes a release of dopamine in the brain, similar to that of certain drugs,   Excessive use can also cause behavioral issues or make existing behavioral problems worse: a 2006 study in the Annals of General Psychiatry found that playing video games for just one hour per day led to more severe symptoms in children diagnosed with ADHD.  

It’s also important to be aware of the disruption that electronics can have to sleep patterns.  The light emitted by screens (called ‘blue light” even though it may not appear blue) lowers melatonin production by the body, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.  Most experts recommend turning off screens at least one hour before going to sleep.   And parents should absolutely be sure their children do not have any devices with them in the bedroom, because children will play with those devices rather than sleep.  And this goes for children of any age - as noted above, even adults will experienced diminished sleep quality due to blue light emissions.

Parents have the opportunity to raise their children in a way that will give them a healthy relationship with electronic devices - be sure to start early!

Why Montessori?

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Iconic Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori developed her revolutionary empowering method of teaching and learning over the first few decades of the 20th century.  Montessori teaching has grown ever more popular as increasing numbers of people question the traditional methods of education that grew so much in the second half of the century. 

Montessori education is about developing children into lifelong learners by encouraging them to explore, experiment, and discover at their own pace, inside a safe environment and guided by experienced educators.   My wife and I enrolled our own children in a Montessori preschool when they were one year old, and it was an excellent decision, and enriched their lives and turbocharged their education.  The thing we saw immediately in our own children was that they not only loved going to school each day, even as toddlers, but they loved learning.   We saw them bring their passion for learning home with them, along with a confidence and independence that they learned in their Montessori classroom. 

In our experience, children who come out of quality Montessori preschools are well prepared for elementary school.   Mariner Montessori incorporates age-appropriate activities that engage the young mind, and build, over the elementary years, into a strong foundation for the rest of their education and lives. 

For example, Montessori is well known for developing independence as children are encouraged to discover and explore solutions on their own.  This forms an excellent basis for group work, when a great teacher guides children to work with each other to explore not just their own solution but possible solutions by others in their group. 

At Mariner, the Montessori method is woven into a strong STEAM curriculum with complementary extracurricular activities that help develop resilience, creativity, and problem solving ability, and a passion for learning.  For more on the terms “STEM” and “STEAM”, read about our Preschool STEAM curriculum.

What is STEM and STEAM?

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“STEM” means “science, technology, engineering, and math”.  Since schools have always taught science and math, the key point in calling something a “STEM” program is not only a promise to deliver really strong science and math, but to teach technology and engineering too.  And that’s something schools have not traditionally done.   

We’re seeing that the good jobs today, and even more in the future, are going to those people who don’t just know science and math, but who know how to apply it to make things - to design and build things. That’s what an engineer does - and that’s why engineers make so much more money than mathematicians! 

But these skills are not just important for becoming an engineer: learning how to apply what you learn to real world situations makes anyone more effective and more valuable - whether you have a career in technology, or even if you have a career in business or even the arts.  The people that get ahead in today’s world are creative, collaborative team players who know how to dream, plan, and get things done.  That’s what STEM education is all about.

But not only has there been a lack of practical science in the traditional school curriculum, there’s also been a lack of attention to the arts, which are a crucial part of a classical education.   So the “A” in “STEAM” is for the Arts.

While we should put heavy emphasis on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, researchers also know that Art is not only fun for kids, and makes them more well-rounded – but it actually makes them better at math and science too.  And art (whether drawing, dancing, or listening to music) is and should be a relaxing activity that complements their other work later in school, and throughout their lives.

Art is important in child development also because it helps children develop their motor skills at an early age – developing muscles in their fingers to do artwork also helps them draw letters and numbers later on.  Look at Leonardo da Vinci: a great scientist, but also a great artist – and his art is what made his science accessible to others.

Montessori provides a proven and highly respected method of building motor and social skills in young children, and developing an inquiring mind.   Adding additional STEM elements to build collaborative and problem solving skills really gives children what they need for the 21st century – the world is really changing – faster than we know.   Mariner Montessori combines these two proven and highly relevant elements of education into a learning environment that prepares children for the future.

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Preschool versus Daycare

Many parents of young children have full time jobs, and need a safe and nurturing place for their children to remain during the day.  While safety is the most important factor, more and more parents are realizing that children as young as six months old will benefit from an environment enriched by a qualified teacher specializing in early childhood education.  In other words, more parents today are looking for more than daycare – they want preschool – also known as “early childhood education.”

Montessori Classroom

An effective early childhood classroom looks a bit different than an elementary school classroom – and different from daycare.   In an early childhood classroom, teachers incorporate learning into the play and socialization activities that take place.   

One of the most effective methods of teacher-guided “play” is known as Montessori education, and is especially popular at the preschool level.  In Montessori classrooms, teachers show young children how to work with toys known as “manipulatives”.  The Montessori methodology is more fully described here.

Montessori manipulatives

The fact is that children are capable of much more than most adults realize.  Language acquisition is just one area where extremely young children benefit greatly from an environment rich in conversation.  Children also learn valuable socialization skills when exposed to other children at very young ages.  This is especially true when the environment is created and guided by an experienced teacher.   Children can also acquire a significant head start in other skills such as experimentation, analysis, reasoning, logic, and of course literacy, numeracy, and familiarity with colors, shapes, animals, and other things that are a part of our world.

 Children who have been enrolled in quality preschools are more prepared for elementary school.  Whether you are interested in a competitive private elementary school for your child, one of the most sought-after Magnet schools, or even your neighborhood public school, a good Montessori preschool experience is a great choice. And a choice your child will thoroughly enjoy!