Lockdowns, screen-time for kids… and Play as an Antidote!

Play! as an antidote to all that screen time

With life as we know it still reeling under the impact of the pandemic, it has become clear that the negative impact on children has been disproportionately high. Not only has their education been severely impacted, their emotional and physical well-being has been under duress as well. A vast majority of children who should have been spending their days interacting with peers, learning and playing under the guidance of teachers have instead been forced to stay inside, often with only a smartphone screen as a window into the outside world. While the increased dependence on technology to ensure continued learning is well-meaning, it’s proving to be a double-edged sword.

Even before the pandemic and associated lockdowns descended upon us, there was growing concern about the impact of screen time on youngsters, particularly the little ones. In fact, as early as 2019, the World Health Organisation had issued guidelines about limiting screen time for children under five. The WHO clearly outlines the need for a reduction of sedentary activity, particularly in front of screens, as well as time when children are restrained. Instead, children need more physical activity and playtime.

“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” says Dr Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep.”

There has also been growing concern within India about the impact of growing connectivity and use of smartphones amongst children. Studies have shown that the majority of children in India exceed the recommended screen time limit. There have also been studies showing the relationship between increased screen time and developmental delay in young children. The pandemic and associated lockdowns have made a bad problem worse, and we really should be worried.

What is the alternative then? 

In a lot of ways, it’s the simplest of things: encourage children to play more. Encourage them to indulge in physical activity and let them have fun so they are able to maintain a level of normalcy for themselves. This will go a long way in helping them in the future.

Experts recommend that children should not be allowed to use their screens for more than an hour a day. In fact, the lesser the better. Play, on the other hand, should be encouraged and spread out across the day. Given that the reality of the restrictions around us will take a while to be removed completely, as caregivers we must be able to devise more meaningful ways for children to stay engaged and happy. Open-ended, free play doesn’t need a lot to set up and goes a long way in helping children develop in an appropriate manner.

Our homes are possibly the only safe spaces for our children to play right now, and this will continue until schools and playgrounds open up completely. In the meantime, helping children to experience adventurous play under our supervision is a great way to keep their development on track.

Curate the playroom with a few toys that encourage active play like a pikler triangle or curvy balance board, and others that make children (and possibly even the adults) move, even while at home!

Along with physical activity, open-ended toys like simple wooden building blocks, peg people, or other simple toys for pretend play, can help stimulate their creativity and fire up their little imaginations, providing a much-needed impetus to their emotional well-being as well.

So... Let the little tykes run, climb, crawl, and jump around. Let them make up stories in their heads and use their hands to recreate worlds. Let them go off on little adventures in the safety of their own homes. Let’s keep them from becoming screen addicts, and get addicted, instead, to the best thing around -- play!

This article is part of a series on adventurous play. Have a look at our Bloon Pikler Collection 

Inspired by Dr. Emmi Pikler’s Pikler Triangle - the Bloon Pikler brings to you a versatile and adaptable range of climbing frames and accessories designed to see a growing child through all their stages of development - giving them different levels of challenge, adventure, physical and imaginative play... playful furniture they never grow out of!

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