Not All Screen Time is Created Equal
We shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of imaginative play, even with a screen.
- Imaginative play encourages the development of key skills that are important for children's success with peers.
- Imaginative play fosters creativity while developing social, emotional, and language skills.
- Imaginative play helps children learn to express themselves to build positive relationships as they collaborate and negotiate.
Imaginative play is exploratory and inclusive—everyone can join. Open-ended toys, books, and games, including “through the screen” interactions, can enhance creative play while fostering independence.
Due to the ease of accessing technology, devices such as television, movies, and online games have become increasingly present in today’s youth. This rapidly changing era of media continues to alter the way in which children’s play crosses virtual barriers with tech-connected toys and engagement in online environments. Given this reality, it’s important to consider the quality of children’s screen interactions since not all screen time is created equal.
Understanding the play and educational value of screen content will maximize the overall benefit of children’s interactions with screens as they grow and navigate this ever-changing landscape.
Three important attributes to think about when considering screen time:
- Is it active or passive? Does this specific screen interaction enable children to be actively involved or are they passively watching something with little value?
- Does it spur imagination? Can children incorporate their own play ideas to enhance the idea/concept and continue the storyline freely?
- Is there any educational value to it? Are children learning/gaining anything of educational merit during the screen interaction?
One of the greatest influences for children’s learning is interest—if a child is interested in the topic, they stay engaged, they want to keep learning. Toys based on children’s favorite movies or television series are important artifacts that can be used to support learning, guiding their participation and engagement. Furthermore, involvement with educational tech apps and games can be an additional resource to aid in children’s development of specific skills in areas of math, literacy, and so forth. Media-driven toys can also assist with the building of peer relationships by strengthening bonds among children as they make connections with one another based on a favorite show or character, which supports socio-emotional skills.
Children crave play, and with each tech advancement children’s play morphs to align with current trends. Spending time in a virtual world with a peer down the street allows a child’s play to cross realities, encouraging true imagination and exploration. Children can actively engage in their play from multiple angles, blurring what’s real and what’s virtual as toys and their imagination cross bounds through digital features and avatar use. As technology continues to develop, borders between real and virtual toys and games are becoming hypothetical, which further expands our children’s play universe so that screen time play experiences flourish as children actively create their own authentic play journey with technology.
Ideas for using screens to support imaginative play:
- Online Imaginative Playgroups: Children meet via online with other children from across the nation to share their toys, discuss favorite topics, and engage in through-the-screen fun.
- Media Storyline Starters: Children watch part of media episodes and then use their imaginations to play out the ending, using their toys or objects from around the house.
- Brick Building: Children use colorful bricks to build structures and collaborate with one another, and when it’s time to end the playdate, children can continue to engage remotely using a popular online brick-building game to explore terrain, extract materials, and collaborate with one another as they build online structures and machines pushing their adventure even further.
- Online Books and Games: Drawing from online books and games, children can listen to stories online as they use their toys to play out the storyline or play a game online and incorporate the fun into their imaginative play using toys, self-made game pieces, and collaboration with others.
- Getting in on the Fun: A great way for parents and educators to not only monitor their children’s screen time but also get in on some of the fun too, is by joining children in their online gaming worlds.