Screen-free childhood is possible ! Parenting the Waldorf way
This blog is an extract from a panel discussion on screen-free parenting with parents of children in their early years. Mr. Vijay Josyula is a working professional and father of 6-year and 11-years old children who attend a Waldorf school in Hyderabad. He is an active Waldorf enthusiast and ardent follower of the philosophy, who believes that the tenets of this alternative approach to education is key to raising emotionally resilient children.
Presence of screens during childhood
Screens are everywhere these days. Gone are those times when we (parents) could pull the plug on the television and that was the end of screen time for children. Smart phones, tablets, laptops, smart watches and more such screens are constantly used by us and in turn they are at an arm’s length distance for our children. With the exponential increase in media consumption, it is imminent that screen-time is detrimental to children especially during the early years when they are still making sense of the world around them.
Why choose screen-free time for children?
As parents, when we mutually agreed and adopted screen free parenting, there was a noticeable change in multiple aspects of our children’s mood and growth. The cutting back on screen time for children resulted in better quality of their sleep that proved to be restorative for them - as children who sleep well, grow well. In today’s world, when children demand and adults depend on screens during meal time, it is to be recognised that this practice deprives children from eating heartily and healthily. We have personally witnessed our children develop good appetites and improved digestion when they are not distracted by screens during meal times.
Longer attention spans and impulse control have also been well-balanced after keeping children away from screens. In today’s helter-skelter environment where every trend has a shorter life span and everything is almost instantly available - the next video, the latest song, the high score on a game, the absence of screens contributes in children learning to delay their gratification and develop strong control over their impulses. These two traits have been evidenced in research as critical elements in determining a person’s happiness and mental well being in life. Furthermore, the choice of screen-free parenting enables active communication and whole body movement in children rather than them passively consuming information while sitting in front of a screen. As they engage in play and interact with people around them, they demonstrate a working knowledge of the language that is not limited to the vocabulary and accent only but extends to the semantics and context. Moreover, the meaningful tasks or imaginative play that children engage in during the absence of screens develops graceful motor skills in them which go a long way in building healthy movement and postures.
Practices to go screen-free at home
All said and done, this leads us to the big question of “How to keep children away from screens?” Though there is no universal fix to this choice, the answer begins with looking at our (parents) relationship with screens. If we, as adults, are addicted to screens then the first step may be a screen detox for ourselves. Though this will be a challenge for those who are professionally required to spend time on screens, it helps to set boundaries and avoid use of screens when we are spending time with our children. For more ideas on how to do so, phonebreakup.com offers some workable tips and strategies for adults on managing their own relationships with screens.
The other step in moving towards screen-free time is to accept that boredom is good for children. They don’t need to be constantly engaged and entertained by adults. It is rather more favourable to create a healthy, consistent rhythm as an alternative to screen time which engages the children’s senses in tasks that involve doing. Having opted for the Waldorf approach to learning, we found the following alternatives helpful to engage child and replace screen time -
- painting and drawing that is unguided and not technique oriented
- working with wool, cloth and other textured items during pretend play reading or telling stories
- chopping and helping out in the kitchen chores creative and imaginative play with blocks, empty cardboard boxes or any other open ended toys
- spending time in nature and outdoors through play or nurturing plants
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