The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends no screen time for children under two, no more than one hour for those two to six and no more than two hours for children six and older.
Child care providers are trained to be able to provide developmentally-appropriate activities for children throughout the day. Most child care centres are very busy places for even the youngest children with meals, outside play, group times, arts and crafts, music and naps. If you are concerned about screen time at your child’s centre, there are a number of things you can do about it. The first and best approach is right at the beginning when you register your child in the program. Ask for their policy on screen time and let them know that you do not want your child watching screens at the centre or what your preferred limits are. If your child is already attending a centre, make a point of occasionally dropping in at different times than you normally do. A high quality child care centre will have an open door policy, as they appreciate the importance of the partnership between the centre staff and the parents.
Many child care providers in our community have taken training about screen time and some of them will have a certificate posted in their centre that says they are a Screen Smart centre. If your child is old enough, ask them about their day. Since most children will answer “Nothing” if you ask them what they did at child care, try asking more direct questions such as, Did you paint? What colours did you use? Did you play outside? Who did you play with? Did you watch TV? In a family or License-Not-Required child care centre, there is often only one staff for two to seven children and it is understandable that it can be difficult for that child care provider to attend to all that needs to be done during the day — you may find that she occasionally wants to use the TV to keep children occupied. Talk to your child care provider when both of you are relaxed (the end of the day is not usually the best time for either of you)! It can be helpful to make arrangements to phone in the evening or possibly during nap time. If you do not want your child to watch any TV, you have every right to ask for that. If you are willing to compromise, let your care provider know exactly how much TV and what programs are acceptable to you. In general, a good quality child care centre should not be using TV except on very rare occasions.
Kids do much better with physical activity. They can build forts in the living room with chairs and sheets, have an indoor scavenger hunt, play sardine hide-and-seek (once the first child is found, the next child squeezes in with them and so on until they are all squeezed into one spot), make boats out of milk cartons and have boat races in the bathtub. Go to the plant store and pick out some seeds, work together to prepare the soil, plant seedlings and decorate the garden with painted rocks or homemade garden markers. Whether your child is in child care, or you are caring for your children at home, ask your caregiver or promise yourself that you will always have 15 minutes outside — every single day. Of course, it will probably stretch into a much longer time! Summer is the very best time to be Screen-Free!
Lynne Reside is coordinator of the North Okanagan ECD Coalition and regional coordinator of Success by 6 and Children First, North Okanagan Columbia Shuswap.