Finding Balance and Helping Learning Stick

I was waiting in a line a few days ago and a young couple was ahead of me with their 7 month old daughter. I asked her age and attempted to wave and say hi to her. Her eyes were glued to a phone screen. They informed me that they always made sure their phone batteries were charged before going out because she needed to watch movies to behave. Seriously?! The only way she wouldn’t scream and cause a fuss that whole time was if they let her watch a movie. Not only that, but they had to be prepared to switch movies whenever her attention waned. Wow!

My middle school daughter was with me and said, “Mom, we didn’t have that. What did you do before mobile phones and the internet?” Am I really that old?!

I had to laugh. I asked her, “Don’t you remember? We played, sang songs, talked, danced around and were silly. I kept a bag packed full of toys, books and other things to entertain children ready to go at all times.”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “I remember that bag. We couldn’t play with any of it at home because they were the going out toys.” Yes, they were.

The young mom proceeded to informed me that her daughter was too young to play with toys so using screens was the only way.

My daughter and I smiled nicely and changed the subject.

Call me crazy, but I believe there is just something inherently wrong with this scenario. When last I checked, there’s quite a lot of research telling us there’s a direct correlation between memory, concrete activities and movement. So what aids memory? Surprise, novelty, physical activity, intermittent retrieval practice, mixed practice, quick quizzes, sensory experiences, hands-on activities… Here’s a cheat sheet with examples.

Children need to develop their attention spans, self-control and their social skills long before they should be exposed to extensive screen time. Here’s an article from Business Insider on how many tech developers severely limit their own children’s screen time. Hmmm, very interesting. When those who create the products are against them in their own homes, it makes me wonder why.

Board games, puzzles, imaginative play, art, sports, outdoor play and other concrete activities are essential for developing our vestibular and proprioceptive systems - think things like balance, eye tracking, sensory integration and large and small motor skills. With these activities, more is better. Just adding in a few of these types of activities into our lessons each day can make a huge difference for our students long-term.

With as much technology as children have available to them both at home and at school, I believe we, as teachers, have a responsibility to double our efforts to make sure our students are getting a balance of learning activities. While technology provides access to some great learning opportunities, it is not the only way. We have to match the learning with the appropriate tools. Our students also need opportunities to have concrete and sensory experiences, plenty of movement and activities to develop their social and collaborative skills to name just a few. We also need to model how to use all of our wonderful technology as the tool it is by teaching moderation and meshing it with other types of learning as well.

It all comes down to balance and age appropriateness. Screens are here to stay. Holding off on screen time in the early years gives students time to develop other essential skills. Harnessing the good technology can bring to education while balancing it with other learning activities is not always easy, but it’s worthwhile. Our students deserve the extra effort it takes on our part to provide balanced, age-appropriate learning environments.

Teach joyfully,


P.S. Did you know Utah’s public schools only have online preschool? Read about it here. I’d love to hear what you think about that.

How do you find balance with tech and concrete activities?


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