I'm a mom of two and an educator. And I have to admit something right here, right now: I get bored easily when playing with my kids.
I try to engage with the little ponies, the fairies and the Tonka trucks, and for a while, it all works out. Give me 20 minutes and I am super mommy, inventing stories that delight my kids, intricately weaving tales of action, romance and glory for the many characters and toys that populate my little ones’ rooms.
But when the 20 minutes is over, my creative energy is spent and my kiddos are begging for more.
Recently, however, I discovered something. As an educational technology specialist, part of my job is to explore new technologies and discover the connections these technologies can bring to the classroom. Along the way, I discover the connections these technologies can make to my family too.
I was exploring a stop-motion application on my tablet when it dawned on me: I should make a stop-motion video with my girls to tell a story with their toys.
Three hours later, we had a stop motion video that lasted 30 seconds, which was a big deal for us. My daughter and I had so much fun playing together that afternoon — and that was using over two hours of screen time!
I believe it is important to establish what screen time can really mean. Do I want my daughter playing with a tablet more than two hours straight without glancing up at her surrounding world? On an airplane or long car ride, yes! In real life, no.
But, if she's engaging with her world, exploring her world and creating her world? Yeah, I want her to do that. So what does that look like for us?
My daughter is 6 years old and can tackle a six-mile hike with gusto. While hiking, we give her an iPod to document her climb with images and videos. Yes, this sometimes includes a 20-second video of one flower — but that's her choice! When we get back, she puts together a video of all of the images and videos using the iPod. Then we send that video to grandparents living far away, and they get to experience their granddaughter’s storytelling skills.
That type of video often takes her longer than two hours to put together. Yet that doesn't concern me because she is preparing something that is meaningful to her and engages her with the world around her. She's telling the story of her adventure! When I was young, I drew pictures about my adventures. Today, she's drawing picture and adding photos, narration and music to her stories.
Technology can powerfully transform the time that kids spend with their families and in school. That minimizes my concerns about screen time and makes me aware that it's all about building meaningful experiences with our kiddos that engage and inspire them and enhance their view of the world. I think that trumps any arbitrary time limit on screen time.
Nannette McMurtry is an ed tech specialist and district library coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) in Longmont, Colorado. Before that she was a high school teacher for nine years in Texas. Follow her on Twitter at @edtechmusings to tell her how you use technology with your own families.