Screen time and alternatives to keep child engaged

Human Brain

Human brain requires opportunity to engage in and interact with materials. Brain needs to be able to solve hands on problems and apply developing abilities to figure out new ones that would come along human development.

Dr. Steve Hughes, a Montessori parent and a Neuropsychologist did extensive research on the brain and the neurodevelopment benefits of classical Montessori education.

Dr. Steve Hughes

According to his research, hands are a child’s strongest link to the brain. Repeated motor movements become templates in brain, serving as starting point for new experiences. Montessori materials emphasize hands-on learning and it is extremely beneficial in cementing the knowledge for the child.

“What the hand does, the mind remembers” – Dr. Maria Montessori

Screen time

Screen time is the amount of time spent using a device such as a smartphone, computer, television, or video game console.

Did you know, Preschool children spend about 32 hours/week on some form of screen.

Most of the child’s brain development is completed before the age of 6, which is before they even enter Elementary school.

In the Early childhood years, there is also tremendous growth gains in self-regulation.

When the child watches screen, their body doesn’t move. They actively respond to the lights, sounds, content etc while interacting with the screen causing a disconnect between the brain and body.

Solid evidence suggests infants and toddlers have difficulty transferring new learning from 2-D (screen) to
 3-D (real life).

Sensory Development in early Childhood

Proprioception (6th sense) determines sense of gravity and Vestibular system (7th sense) determines sense of balance. Both these senses develop the most before age 6. Screen time impacts these 2 senses the most. Poorly developed 6th and 7th sense combined with restricted play time due to spending more time on “screen” plays a major in a child’s self-regulation and impacts their ability to listen and follow directions at home/school.

Some symptoms of “Electronic Screen Syndrome”

  • Sensory overload
  • Lack of restorative sleep
  • Hyper aroused nervous system
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Results in speech delays
  • Moody
  • Unable to pay attention
  • Increased sensitivity to rewards
  • Causes impairment in cognitive task execution
  • Changes brain chemistry
  • Causes limited human connections
  • Limits eye contact and dialogue

American Academy of Pediatrics calls for no screen time at all for children until 18 to 24 months, except for video chatting, and says kids ages 2 to 5 should get an hour or less of screen time per day.

More screen time and not enough time for reading, games and unstructured imaginative play, will result in children having their brains wired in ways that may make them less, not more , prepared to thrive in this new world of technology.

Book recommendations on this topic:

Now, that we have looked into how the Human brain functions and the impact of screen time on its development, lets look at some alternatives to keep children engaged while you are out on a car ride, traveling, at a restaurant etc.

1.Texture books

2. Mystery bags: Find specific items around the house preferably based on one category/season/holiday/your child’s interest and place them inside a bag. You can keep this activity exclusively for use in car or when outside the home. The child can take one item at a home and explore it, name it or have a conversation about it. Always ensure items are safe and age appropriate.

3. Etch a sketch: A small drawing tablet that a child can draw, erase and repeat without any mess.

4. Stickers: Dot stickers work great for this activity, they can be stuck to each other or on a paper/napkin. Great fun and also strengthens pincer grasp for writing preparation.

5. Play “I Spy”

6.Create a playlist of your child’s favorite songs, with great rhyme /movement to play in the car when on long rides.

7. Audio books of your child’s favorite stories: add along the book during the car ride for them to follow along.

8. Coloring books with less messy writing materials like pencils/crayons

9.Legos or small manipulatives to build

10. Magnetic designer or maze activity:

11. Small mirror/magnifying glass/binoculars for child to explore themselves and their surroundings


*Books and toy recommendations are available on, Lakeshore Learning store.

*More information on Screen time and its impact, guidelines and alternatives can be found on the american Academy of Pediatrics website:

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