R’s (4.5 yrs) love of Angry Birds is bordering on obsession. He walks, talks, and breathes Angry Birds. I actually don’t have a problem with this. I love that he is so passionate about something and he talks to me about the strategies he devises to knock down the structures so there is some critical thinking going on there. The concentration and sheer determination on his face when he’s tackling a tricky level is brilliant. He also received two of the “real life” Angry Birds games for Christmas (the Angry Birds: Knock On Wood Game
and Angry Birds Star Wars Fighter Pods AT AT Attack). They are really great games but I’ll leave my reasons for liking them to another post. What I’m writing about today is R’s iPad usage. It had really become excessive and I needed to deal with it fast. Until now, the only rules surrounding R’s iPad usage was that he needed to ask me first before using it. Other than that, he was free to play the apps I downloaded for him when it suited him. This was not usually a problem. He’d play for a while and then move on to something else. In fact for the last few months he had barely touched the iPad at all. All that changed when I downloaded Angry Birds for him.
I’m not blaming Angry Birds for R’s excessive iPad use. The responsibility is all mine. I just wasn’t reigning it in. Last weekend, when I realised that I had managed to get a tonne of work done because R had been on the iPad playing Angry Birds ALL DAY I realised something needed to be done, and fast. Things had also reached the point where if I asked R to turn off the iPad we had MAJOR opposition! I devised a system that set limits but that also gave R independence and choice about his iPad usage. This took all of five minutes to put together and it has worked incredibly well.
Firstly I needed to set a daily time limit and I decided that he could use the iPad for ninety minutes per day. This is a very personal choice. Some families might choose no screen time at all for their kids, others will feel that ninety minutes per week works for them.
As you can see, I kept this pretty simple. On a piece of card stock, I drew a simple chart, with nine segments, and in each segment I wrote the numbers 90, 80, 70 and so on, counting down by ten each time. Each segment represents a ten minute increment within the ninety minute time limit. I wrote the numbers in descending order for a specific reason which I’ll explain later.
Next, I took a different colour of card stock and cut it into nine rectangles to match the size of the segments on the green chart. On each of these nine cards I wrote “10 minutes” in the top left corner.
So here’s how it works. Each silver card represents ten minutes of screen time. R decides how long he would like to use the iPad and then trades in the corresponding number of silver cards. So if he chooses ten minutes, he hands me one card, twenty minutes, two cards etc. The silver cards are placed on the green chart as they are traded in. This is why I wrote the numbers on the green chart in descending order – R is able see at a glance exactly how many minutes he has remaining. In the example above, forty minutes have been used and there are fifty minutes remaining.
I set some ground rules as follows.
RULES FOR SCREEN TIME
1. No more than 30 minutes (3 cards) of screen time in any one sitting.
2. If 20 or more minutes of screen time takes place, then there must be a break of at least one full hour before more screen time happens.
3. Unused screen time does not carry over to the following day. (So if only 50 minutes is used one day, then the remaining 40 minutes are forfeited, they cannot be added on to the next day’s allowance.
4. Screen time ends an hour before bedtime. If there is any screen time remaining at one hour before bedtime, then it is forfeited.
These rules might sound a bit regimented but they have worked extremely well and R has responded so positively to this chart. There have been many other benefits to using this chart that I didn’t expect when I was planning it all out, and I’ve listed these below.
BENEFITS OF SCREEN TIME CARDS AND CHART
1. No more arguments about using the iPad. Using this system has completely eliminated all tantrums and arguments over iPad usage. Hooray! There are two reasons for this. Firstly, having a visual guide to show R how much time is remaining means that he knows exactly what to expect. No surprises for him means no tantrums. Secondly, R has been given independence and respect. Rather than me just dictating to him “yes you can use the iPad but only for ten minutes” he gets to choose how long he’ll use the iPad within the rules and limits set out above.
2. Independence and self regulation. Having the visual guide means that R is learning to ration his screen time. I have been surprised by how many times he has chosen to play on the iPad for just ten minutes, rather than the full thirty minutes that he is allowed per session. He is obviously learning that by spreading the time out, he gets to use the iPad throughout the day, rather than using up all his allotted time in one sitting. He is able to see via the chart whether he has a lot of time remaining or whether he has almost used it all, and so he is limiting himself so as not to run out of time too soon.
3. Counting by tens. Since the silver cards represent ten minute increments, R is learning to count by tens as each time he trades in some cards, we count together what has been used.
4. Learning to tell the time. I have been setting the timer on my phone so that I know when R’s allotted time has ended, but I also wanted him to have a visual guide of how much time is remaining in his current session. I thought about using a kitchen time but while I was at Big W the other day (that’s an Aussie department store similar to Wall-mart in the US) I saw a great wall clock for just $3! How could I pass that up? It is has a large round face, and the numbers are large and clear. Perfect. So now I sit the clock near R when he is using the iPad and I say to him “It is now ten past two, when the big hand reaches the four, it will be twenty past two and it will be time to turn off the iPad.” I like this way of passive teaching. Rather than sitting down to a lesson in telling the time we are simply incorporating it into a real world situation. Eventually, without even realising it, he will learn to tell the time as a by product of restricting his iPad time.
I have actually been surprised by how well this system has worked and how positively R has responded to it. Today, when his Daddy arrived home from work, R wanted to play Angry Birds with him. I explained that he had already used his ninety minutes and he could play something else with Daddy instead. I also explained that tomorrow, he would need to save a silver card until Daddy arrived home so that he could use the iPad with him. R was completely calm and nodded to show he understood. I’m expecting he’ll be saving one of those cards tomorrow.
We keep our chart on the refrigerator and use magnets to attach the silver ten minute cards. You could also use blu-tack or velcro to attach the cards to the main chart. If you have a bit more time, you could even make a felt version of this chart and hang it on the wall. Here’s how ours looks on the fridge. If you like the glittery bottle top magnets, you can read the how-to on my post over at Kids Activities Blog.
Do you limit your children’s screen time? Any tips you’d like to share in the comments?
UPDATE: After one month of using this system I’m excited to share that R’s iPad usage has really been reduced. We still use the chart to monitor his screen time but rarely does he actually use all of the cards in a single day (he’s averaging around 30 minutes a day now) and often, when he has chosen to do a 30 minute block of time in one sitting, he will actually switch the iPad off well before that 30 minutes is up. This system has been a definite win for us!
Now to this week’s linky.
Thank you to everyone who linked up last week. Three of my favourites were:
If you’ve been featured this week, please feel free to grab a Sunday Parenting Party “Ive been featured” button from my sidebar. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s posts again this week. Please remember that this linky is not for kids activities. We invite you to link up your parenting posts, old or new, humorous or heartfelt, and as many as you like. We ask that you don’t link up kids activities. This linky is purely for posts about parenting. If you do have a kids activity to link up, pop on over to The Weekly Kids Co-op. We would love to see you link up there.
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