In the modern age of homeschooling, it isn’t uncommon to use modern technology to supplement and even teach certain subjects in our homeschools. However, for many parents, this presents a new problem – how to find the balance between educational screen time and entertainment screen time. This post helps you set guidelines and parameters that work for your family!
Years ago, I wrote a post about how we handled screen time in our family. However, that post is quite outdated because things have dramatically changed since those days! My children are no long all little, I have adult children living in the home, and more and more of our schoolwork is done on the computer, or supplemented by online sites and resources.
And there are WAY more screens in our home than there used to be.
Among the 10 people currently living in our home, there are 14 devices available – from computers to laptops to phones and tablets and of course, the smart TV in the living room that is also connected to the internet. A few years ago, I would have said that was excessive, but from where I stand now, it feels pretty normal.
In fact, I want to be clear in this post – what works for us isn’t the ONLY way to manage screen time. Some of you will find our screen time notions quite lenient, and others will find them entirely too restrictive. Only you and your family can define your boundaries and rules for Screen Time.
WARNING SIGNS THERE MIGHT BE TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME
1 – Your child cries when it is time to shut off the screens.
2 – Your child yells at you when you take away a screen time privilege.
3 – Your child wakes up and goes to bed at night asking for screen time (and a lot of their day is spent asking for a device to watch or play on).
4 – You hand your child your phone or tablet as soon as they fuss.
5 – You find yourself “giving in” to your child’s demands for devices simply to “keep the peace.”
6 – You just “know” they are on devices too much. (Because honestly, we usually DO know.)
Most likely, if you are reading this you think your family “might” have a problem, so let’s walk through this because when you homeschool, it isn’t a simple matter of limiting game time and watching less TV. There’s all that schoolwork to take into account. Let’s start there…
How much time should a homeschooler be on the computer for school?
Once upon a time, I might have said, “NONE!” But now that I have older kids and more kids in general, I’ve changed my tune! Computer schooling is an invaluable tool for homeschool parents.
- It can take over subjects mom doesn’t feel qualified to teach.
- It can help mom redeem more time.
- It can be a quick resource for difficult questions.
- It is a great audio-visual supplement.
- and the list goes on!
But, it does mean our homeschooled children are spending more time in front of a screen than we may have anticipated or even hoped for. We don’t need to feel guilty about this, we simply need to place some limits and boundaries on these tools.
Here’s a peek at how devices play a role in our homeschool without being pervasive…
Only Mom is allowed a screen during Morning Time. I use it to show clips and images of things we are discussing and our actual Morning Time lessons are housed on my computer.
My younger children have 2 subjects they do on a screen, but only Math is done every day. Reading Eggs is a supplement I use for my early readers and those needing a little work on their reading skills.
Reading Eggs is NOT an every day app. It is used at my discretion, which usually means 2-3x a week, and it is ALWAYS used AFTER other school work is finished. In many ways, we use it as a REWARD and typically only allow 1 lesson to be completed at a time.
Total time on screen for young homeschoolers = 30-45 minutes
TRY A 4 WEEK FREE TRIAL OF READING EGGS ON ME!
(click the graphic below!)
My older children do Math and Typing on the computer. They sometimes work on projects on the computer as well. Math and Typing together only take about 45-60 minutes. If there is a projects, I will allow another hour on the computer.
Total time on screen for older homeschoolers = 45 minutes – 2 hours
Basically, I prefer my students are not on the computer more than 2 hours for school. In special cases, I will allow for more time (like when my oldest daughter was working on editing photos for a school project), but I have them take regular breaks to avoid eye strain (and frustration!).
Teach your kids the 20-20-20 rule to help with eye strain.
QUESTION: What if I need my kids to do ALL of their school on the computer?
Sometimes circumstances require all of our children’s school be done on the computer. For younger children, this still shouldn’t take more than 2 hours. If it is taking longer than that, you probably need to intervene and find a way to cut back.
For older children, it may take closer to 4 hours if all of their homeschooling is done on a screen. If this is the case…
- Have them take regular breaks.
- Make sure they aren’t dawdling. (check on them regularly)
- Don’t allow other screens in the area. (even an extremely focused child will take longer if distracted by other screens)
Now that we’ve established educational parameters, it’s time to talk about entertainment.
How much time should kids spend on screens for entertainment purposes?
Again, there is no fixed answer. Reread the warning signs at the beginning of this post, and proceed at your own pace with your own family in mind.
Oh, wait…one more warning…this time from the American Heart Association…
Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. The new warning from the AHA recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.https://www.cbsnews.com/news/parents-need-to-drastically-cut-kids-screen-time-devices-american-heart-association/
Now, obviously, the AHA is concerned about heart disease and obesity which is “linked” to how much time a child spends on a screen during the day. I would submit that it’s not really linked to the amount of time spent on a screen, but rather the amount of time NOT spent playing.
ALL children should be spending more time playing regardless of screen time amounts. Cutting down on screen time without implementing other healthy habits isn’t going to change anything.
That said, I have found when my children are on devices more, they are less creative and less likely to find creative ways to play. Kids need to be bored often enough and for long enough that they come up with something else to do. Thus the reason we have tight restrictions on screen time for entertainment purposes in our home.
Our Screen Time rules:
No devices until 4pm. (adult children must not use their phones prior to 4pm for entertainment purposes that are enticing to their younger siblings. i.e. watching YouTube videos, playing games, etc.)
No earbuds unless sanctioned by Mom or Dad. (For 2 reasons – it keeps them from hiding what they are listening to and it protects their ears.)
Television Time for the littles begins at 4pm, but the house must be tidy! Every day, without fail, the house is cleaned prior to the 4pm TV Time. If I notice something hasn’t been cleaned, I shut the TV off and they try again.
Each child takes a turn choosing a show to watch (starting from the youngest) until dinner is served. In my home the children watching TV at 4pm are ages 3,4,6,9, and 10. The older children do not watch TV at this time, but they are allowed on their computers, phones, or tablets. If dinner is served before you get a turn to choose, you get first dibs the following day.
TV Time does not trump Mom and Dad. If we need a child to load a dishwasher, feed a dog, help with dinner, or come along on an errand, TV Time does not null and void these requests. And if you whine, chances are you won’t be returning to the living room to watch anything else. We will; however, honor requests to “wait until this show is over” if it is not an emergency and you asked nicely.
TV Time after dinner is for older kids and parents. It’s still family friendly, but it’s not a cartoon.
Games are for weekends. There are NO video games allowed during the weekdays unless it is your Special Night. On Fridays, the little kids get an hour each to play games on the computer or phone. The older kids usually use up their time on Saturdays. My adult daughter is allowed 2 nights a week to play a game with friends online. All we ask of her is to avoid staying up too late.
NOTE: We occasionally allow our little kids to “trade in” their weekday TV time for a game on the Wii. My mom gave the kids her Wii, which is all sports. I’m ok with this because they are up and moving around.
No screens in bedrooms, unless you are an adult. I don’t like devices in bedrooms. We’ve never had computers in bedrooms or allowed iPads or phones to be in bedrooms. Parents and adult siblings are the exception to this rule. My office is in my bedroom and most of us use our phones as alarms for work and college.
Screen Time is a privilege, and it’s the first thing to go if you need to be disciplined. Nobody “needs” entertainment-based Screen Time; therefore, it is a privilege, not a right. For the younger boys in particular, it is the first thing taken away if they misbehave.
These rules have worked well for us for several years now. I don’t see a lot of bad behavior when I ask the kids to shut off their screens. I don’t have kids asking non-stop to get on a device (it helps to have a timeline for them!), and I definitely see them using their imaginations and being creative.
Other ideas for Screen Time
*Some parents opt to make Screen Time for entertainment purposes purely a reward system. Plays outside for 20 minutes = Receive 20 minutes of Screen Time. Do your schoolwork without dawdling = 30 minutes of Screen Time.
Personally, I couldn’t keep up with this way of managing Screen Time. I have 10 kids and I don’t like spreadsheets, which is what it would take to keep track of the monstrosity this would become!
*Some parents have days set aside for specific things or specific children. We used to do Monday, Wednesday, Friday as TV days. This was back when the kids were all little and went to bed early. Now that I have a mix of bigs and littles, this doesn’t work. (Thus the reason I had to revisit this topic!)
*Some parents opt to avoid the screen entirely until a certain age. This works great if you only have a couple of kids and they are close in age. You can wait to introduce the concept of Screen Time until they are much older. Unfortunately, this was easier 20 years ago when my son was little. Now it’s near impossible unless you yourself avoid all screens as well.
Frankly, I don’t believe the world of technology is inherently evil. But, I do think we have a difficult time controlling ourselves around our devices.
Technology contains an addictive allure that easily becomes all-consuming if we don’t keep a close eye on it. It is a matter of self-governing, and being able to recognize when moderation has been exceeded. However, little kids don’t self-govern. In fact, a lot of adults don’t either.
When our children are young, it’s our responsibility to keep screens in check. As our children grow older, we have to lift those restrictions little by little and let them try things out on their own.
So far, both of my adult children have made some mistakes when it comes to managing their devices and their time spent on them.
But, that’s ok.
So have I!
I remember how much time I spent online working on this blog from 2011-2013. It was too much. I still have to keep an eye on my screen time, but I know what too much looks like, and God has always been faithful to give me a little nudge when I cross that line.
So, in short…
- Don’t feel guilty about taking advantage of the screen-based opportunities we have for homeschooling.
- Make sure your children take breaks from the screen.
- Put reasonable parameters in place for entertainment-based screen time.
- And when in doubt, go with your gut – it’s probably right!
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