Two things are true:
1. Technology is now deeply entwined in public school education. Schools now have chrome books or iPads for each student, curriculum available as online text and assignments, and educational learning games.
2. Teachers are dealing with a lot (to put it succinctly - as this could be a whole other blog post).
But I know the effects of too much screen time (overstimulation, addiction, digital eye strain, inability to focus, mood swings, etc.), and every year I worry that this new teacher will have my kids on computers all day long.
I am resigned to the fact that my kids will have online assignments, assessments, and mandated minutes for different educational games. But, I tell my kids that if they have free time after finishing an assignment, I want them to choose a screen-free activity - read a book, color, write a story, doodle, help the teacher, help other students. Pretty much anything besides spending more time (that isn't necessary) looking at a screen.
So how do you go about talking to the teacher about this topic? I think communication is so important between parents and teachers and I want him/her to know what I've told my kids about free time expectations. But I don't want the teacher to feel like I am asking them to monitor my child's screen time or create more work for them.
Teachers are in a tough spot because districts will often mandate technology and it can be a tricky subject. Here's my advice as a former teacher and a parent who approaches the topic every year.
1. Talk Face to Face
I used to not want to take up a teacher's precious time and request a meeting. But this is a topic that is better discussed where you can read each other's emotional cues and body language and hear their voice. Plus you are starting to build a relationship, which is so important!
So after things get settled in the start of the year, ask to have a meeting with them.
2. Start By Asking Questions
Don't just come in with your requests. Start by asking questions to get a feel for how technology is used in the classroom. You may be totally comfortable with the teacher's plan! Some questions to ask are:
- How many devices are in the classroom for student use? Is it one for each child? Is it a chrome book or iPad?
- Can you tell me how often you use these devices during the day? Is it for each subject?
- Do students still have text books or is it on the computer?
- What online programs will the students be using this year?
- Do students have the ability to use the computers when they finish assignments early?
- Do you have other activities for students to work on when they finish work?
- Are you able to see what students are doing on the computer? (sometimes teachers have a way to monitor this from their computer)
3. Be Ready to Offer Information
The teacher may not ever have thought or learned about the effects of too much screen time. Ed Tech companies are very persuasive and their administrators are told that technology is the way to get kids engaged, close achievement gaps, and differentiate instruction.
So after listening to the teacher's answers, you can talk more about how you limit screen time at home and give your reasonings.
This is an article about how Ed Tech companies are taking control of education.
This is an article about screen time effects from American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
This is an article about screen time and eyesight.
This is an article to see if your child is overstimulated with too much screen time.
This is an article about effective ed tech to amplify learning instead of replacing teachers.
This is an article about a study that shows technology in the hands of every student led to poorer performance.
This is an article about how reading comprehension is better in print than on a screen.
3. Be an Ally
Teachers are constantly juggling multiple things and have 20-30 other students to think about as well. Ask how you can help.
Here's where you can say that you've talked to your child about choosing non-screen activities when they are finished with their work early, and ask if there is a need for resources. Should you send extra books or activities in their backpack? Can you offer to purchase or make copies of paper/pencil early finisher activities?
You can reassure the teacher that you don't mean for this to be more work for them (whether monitoring screen time or providing activities). You just want to have strong communication to start off the year.
A Sample Letter Just In Case
If you are unable to meet in person or have a strong desire to avoid this conversation, here's a sample letter that you could email and hopefully they will take it seriously (but there's always a chance it gets skimmed or scoffed at). Sometimes I've written something similar on those "Tell me About Your Child" Questionnaires and request a meeting to discuss it more.
___________ and I are looking forward to this school year with you! We do our best to keep screen time limited, and I know there may be a lot of computer time at school. Because of that, I’ve talked to _____________ about choosing non-screen activities if they finish work early. I hope he/she can read, color, write a story, help you, or help other students instead of playing games on the computer.
I do not want to put more work on you because I am well aware you have so many other students and things to juggle. Please know I don’t expect you to monitor my child’s screen time. But I do think communication is important between parents and teachers, so I just wanted to let you know my feelings on the topic.
If there is ever any way I can help you out, please let me know! I am happy to send materials or books in _________’s backpack.
Thank you for all you do!
Will My Child be Singled Out?
You might worry that your child will get singled out for not being on the computer. It is a valid concern, but in my experience it has never happened.
I have never suggested a completely different assignment for classwork. My screen-free request is just for when they finish work early (basically unnecessary screen time). They aren't singled out when it's a class activity. No one notices that they pull out a book or work on a paper/pencil activity instead of being on the computer. Actually, my son's 2nd grade teacher just told me he has inspired the other kids to read more!
How Do Your Kids Feel?
We've talked a lot about screen time limits and how we need to give our eyes and brains breaks from screens. We've also talked about how games can start to take us over and you just want more and more.
So I've explained to them that this is an easy area in which we can limit our screen time during the day. Choose an alternative activity. They still get to experience the games the district requires, they just don't need to have MORE when class work is finished (and they are often early finishers). They know mom likes "tech as a tool and not a time-filler."
I also make sure my kids know it's THEIR responsibility because the teacher has a lot of other students in the class.
I hope this information has encouraged you to ask questions and be an advocate for your child!