12 strategies that have helped control my child’s digital diet

We live in an increasingly hectic world. I work as a freelance writer, and when there are looming deadlines for my writing assignments, it’s ever-tempting to let the kids go to their “nannies,” namely the iPad, TV, or computer.

My kids’ digital diet has been steadily increasing. Almost every day, JJ (or even his younger brother) will come to me and ask for some TV time.

I decided that I needed to do something about it, in order to curtail a downward spiral.

But why is it important that we moderate our children’s digital diet? What do kids lose when too much time is spent with and on screens?

This article captures it well: Even the smart kids are lacking social and conversational skills. They don’t know how to:

1) read non-verbal cues (which is a real problem because non-verbal makes up the bulk of all communication)

2) take turns

3) stay on topic

And surprisingly, it is the wealthier ones who are most affected:

A 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics found a 63 percent increase in disability associated with speech problems between 2001 and 2011, though the percentage of kids with disabilities rose just 16 percent. And the biggest increase was among the wealthiest families.

So what are we parents to do? Here are 10 things that I’ve found helpful for my kids…

1. Decide on a schedule

Work as a family to draw the boundaries.

Decide on a duration and limit that suits your family and your kids’ age.  For some, this could mean 45 min of screen time daily. For others, it could be 2 hours but only on weekends. There isn’t a right answer, but most experts recommend limiting to 1-2 hours of total screen time per day. As a guide, children under 2 need little or no screen time, while older kids can get some screen time a few times a week.

On weekdays, I work their TV schedule around the times I need to bring them out. For example if your child has music classes on Monday and swimming on Thursday, then those are no-TV days.

2. Make it a family decision

Kids are intelligent and understand more than what we give them credit for. Talk about why you need to set limits for screen time. Talk about the dangers of excessive screen time (less outdoor play, reduced social interaction, and how that affects children and even young adults). And then set the rules together as a family. This helps them to understand why too much TV could be a problem, and helps them to gain ownership over the rules that are being set.

3. Make it visual

Kids need reminders to help them control their impulses. After deciding on the days that we allow screen-time, I put it into a simple calendar. Because JJ isn’t reading independently yet, I put in simple icons to help him identify what the words are. But trust me, he knows what the two letters “TV” means…

And because he knows 4pm is TV time on a particular day, he will keep asking if it’s 4pm, how long more, etc. The schedule doesn’t mean that we need to be totally strict and inflexible. It actually allows for flexibility. For example the other day we had a playdate with some of his friends. Because they chose to watch a bit of TV, and it wasn’t a designated TV day, he negotiated to have it swapped with the following day’s TV slot. I agreed, and when the next day came, there’s wasn’t any mention of the two-letter word.

Of course, some days can be hard. He is after all still young, and waiting is a hard game to master. But it has its benefits, and sticking to the schedule, more or less, may even help them to learn the most important skill of all.

kids schedule

4. Have special TV times

We allow kids to watch their favourite shows on Netflix on weekends. The older ones get to pick one show to watch and this becomes their special designated TV time with the dad. You can even plan for a special movie night on weekends or certain holidays. This way, it’s the bonding that is the focus, not merely a screen.

5. Be selective with content.

Rather than allowing kids to watch anything on TV (because you never know what’s on supposedly kids programmes these days), I prefer choosing a variety of DVDs and/or programmes on Netflix and making sure that the content is age-appropriate for your child. I quite like some of the programmes on Netflix and find them both educational and entertaining (our favouites are Science Kid and Wildkratts!) plus the fact that I can hit pause when I need to, and of course…no ads!

6. Designate tech-free zones and times

Mealtimes and bedtime are the usually natural tech-free zones. Explain to your kids that these are special bonding and connecting times to talk and share as a family. It’s not good to be distracted by a noisy screen as we want to appreciate our food and actually taste what we are eating.

What happens when children eat with their eyes glued to a screen? First, they don’t learn to fully taste their food. Second, they have no idea when they are actually full. They only know that when they finish, the screen gets taken away. So it might actually take longer for them to eat, because they’re so distracted.

I believe it isn’t a route we all want for our kids. But if there is already such a habit, you can still take steps to cut down on the screen time, little by little.

7. Try audio books instead

Audio books are great, especially if you have preschoolers who are not of reading age yet. Listening to audio books help to hone their listening skills, and also visualisation skills, which is the brain’s ability to draw mental pictures. Check out Common Sense Media‘s and Modern Mrs Darcy‘s favourite audio books selection.

8. Increase sensory play

In order of turning on the TV, reach for a sensory bin. Sensory play can be messy because children are allowed to use their hands to feel materials like sand, foam, water, ice, or other things like beans and rice. But that’s just one aspect: the sense of touch. How about engaging the other senses such as smell and hearing? Sensory play also allows children to be in complete control of their actions and experiences, which encourages experiential learning. How do you do sensory play at home without making too much of a mess? Here are some ideas.

Sensory play is messy but fun!

9. Play old fashion board and card games

It helps to have a wide range of activities on hand to choose from, in order for young ones to not feel like they need to reach for the remote each time they feel bored. We love to play tic-tac-toe, Gobblet Gobblers, Uno games, memory games using cards, and good ol’ snakes and ladders.

There are many board games that can help encourage executive function and math skills too.

10. Head outdoors

Try to have outdoor time a couple of times a week, if not daily. Some sports or playground time? Outdoor play is an essential for children’s well-being. It stimulates creativity, promotes problem-solving, reduces anxiety, and increases imagination. (source)

11. Choose games wisely

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Tech can be used to our advantage too. When we need some time waiting outside, I occasionally let the kids play games like Cut the rope, which helps to promote flexible thinking and problem solving skills, and some Chinese word apps.

12. Lead by example

This is probably the hardest part for most of us. How many times have you heard your child say to you, “Mum, put your phone down!” (I admit, I’ve heard this at least once in the past week.) But if we can exhibit self-control, and even let our kids know our own strategies of controlling media usage, the kids will soon be inspired to do the same.

12 way to manage your child digital diet

I hope you find these ideas useful! What other strategies do you use at home to help your little ones control their media usage?

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My Gym Buona Vista – Review and Giveaway! (Closed)

We were invited to try out gym classes at My Gym Buona Vista recently and we let JJ have a go because he’s a real Tigger and loves to romp, jump, and bounce all day long.

He started their Terrific Tots programme in May and have been looking forward to attending gym class every week since. Like…once the lift door opens on Level 3 of Rochester Mall, he’s out like a rocket. He barely turns to wave goodbye to us. He just can’t wait to move and play and jump!

What I like:

1) The class begins with free play.

Kids who arrive early get to romp, jump, scale walls, and hang on the monkey bars before class starts. And everyone knows when the class starts without the teachers even saying anything. The cue is in the music: when it stops, everyone stops their activity and assembles at the circle. Nicely done.

gym slide

 

2) There is proper warm up and stretching time.

Here they are below stretching their back muscles.

gym warmup

There is also circle time where kids get a chance to speak up and introduce themselves by answering a simple question. I thought it was good the programme actually incorporates some social skills component so the kids can get to interact with one another.

In this pic below, the kids are doing “tummies in the middle” – this is where the instructor will prepare the kids for what’s coming up, and give important instructions.

gym huddle

3) The exercises build up in complexity.

Round 1 is the simplest, then subsequent rounds add on another layer of activity. Take for instance this hanging beach ball game. In the first round, the kids have to just kick the ball. For the second round, they have to add on a forward roll. So it stretches the child’s ability to listen, follow and remember instructions.

4) The kids get to do circuits incorporating different actions and challenges.

In this circuit below, JJ had to swing on a rope like Tarzan, and then forward roll on a sloping gym-mat.

And for this one, JJ had to wind around some cones, climb up and down the stairs, and complete the circuit with a forward roll.

Every week’s activities and relays are different, working different parts of the body,and stretching different parts of the brain.
5) The gym setup changes weekly.

Things are moved around, and different tools and challenges are featured each week. The kids can play and practise on a balance beam one week, and hang on the monkey bars another week. So there’s always something new.

gym balance 2

6) Safety is always emphasised.

Whenever the kids have to do something requiring balancing, they are reminded to spread their hands like an aeroplane to help them.

Gym balance beam

For forward rolls, the kids are always reminded to tuck in their heads, to prevent neck injuries. For backward rolls, they are taught to use “pizza hands” which are hands that are spread apart to help them achieve stability.

The gym instructors also focus on imparting proper techniques before challenging the kids to do more complex actions.

Here is JJ doing a handstand on a plank. He has been practising handstands for a few lessons before this, and usually on a mat.

Gym_handstand

Before that, he was actually walking on the plank and practising changing direction by jumping and twisting.

gym twist on beam

7) The activities promote listening and memory recall skills.

In the picture below, JJ is trying to focus to jump into the right-coloured hoops. The kids were given verbal instructions to only jump into the green and yellow hoops, and to avoid the rest. Such activities may look simple, but it requires active listening on the kids’ part to be able to follow through the tasks successfully.

gym jump hoops

8) They use a range of manipulatives to train motor skills and agility.

One of my favourite activities was this one pictured below, where the kids have to throw a scarf into the air and catch it; then throw it, turn around, and catch it again. I could tell they were all having lots of fun doing this, because the way a scarf falls is…well quite different from say a ball. It was a sensory experience and I know JJ was relishing the touch of the scarf landing on his face. Quite a memorable sight!

gym hanky throw

All in all, JJ loved the classes and I believe he’s benefitted in terms of gaining better balance, coordination, and body control.

And now we have a…

~~~ GIVEAWAY!~~~

I have a trial class valid for redemption at My Gym Buona Vista to give away to 3 readers. Just follow the instructions of the Rafflecopter app below to join in! Open to Singaporean residents only. The contest will close 9 August, 11.59pm!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s a snapshot of the classes available here.

My Gym schedule

For further enquiries, do contact My Gym @ Buona Vista
Rochester Mall, #03-24/25/26,
Singapore 138639

Phone: (+65) 6684 9220
Email: buonavista@mygym.com.sg

Operating Hours:
Tue – Sun: 9am – 6pm

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Our Primary School Journey: More Praise, Less Criticism

Last week, Vera studied for her tingxie (Chinese spelling) by herself. I had clean forgotten about it until I passed by her desk and saw the list of words on her desk. Then she asked me to test her and I did.

Later that night, JJ asked her to read for him a story from the Berenstein Bears book. She obliged and read to him for awhile. It was near her bedtime and I had to cut it short so she could prepare for bed, but I gave them a couple more minutes in order for her to finish the last few pages.

While she was doing her night routine (brush teeth, pack bag, lay out uniform, etc) I wrote some goals on her closet door.

Goals for my child

By writing them down, I was trying to use them to affirm her deeds that day, while also setting a benchmark for her to continue working towards. I drew her some hearts and stars and acknowledged how she was kind to her brother by reading for him, and how she had planned ahead to prepare for her spelling on her own. (As the days go by, I hope to be able to give out more hearts and stars.)

She was really pleased to see what I wrote and to receive the affirmation. I was also glad that JJ was in the room to witness and hopefully remember what I said.

Note to self: I need to catch the kids doing good more often – it’s something that doesn’t come naturally and needs a lot of practice. But I believe it will encourage them to want to do better intrinsically. I hope that the scales will tip towards this more as opposed to its current state where I have to dish out quite a lot of verbal correction and warnings on a daily basis.

~~~~~

When we started off the year, I remember checking Vera’s school bag, her handbook (where she writes down her homework and important instructions), and asking her, “Have you done this, and that…?”

As the weeks went by, I had to gradually stop myself from issuing such reminders, hoping that she’d pick up more of the responsibility and more “automation.” (After all, I wasn’t the one who’s going to get into trouble when she forgets her homework right?)

2, 3 months passed. I realise I wasn’t looking into her handbook very much anymore. 4, 5 months, I stopped reminding her weekly to prepare for her spelling. I stopped asking her if there’s anything she needs my signature on. It’s been half a year and she seems to be able to take care of her study/homework responsibilities more.

I’m thankful.

But I also see that she has a long way to go to becoming the independent learner she can be.

She still struggles with certain aspects of organisation, like keeping things back to where they belong, and keeping her work desk tidy.

She started violin lessons earlier this year but has not developed the habit of practising every other day. So I’m in the midst of working out a practice schedule for her.

She still needs reminders to finish her meal (sometimes she gets distracted by whatever her brothers are doing or saying.)

She has not developed a strong chore ethic at home yet. Right now, she tidies up messes and cleans the table and folds her laundry on an irregular basis, maybe once or twice a week. There’s a lot of room for improvement so I plan to incorporate different chore items into her schedule.

On my part, I will try not to nag or scold as much. But will rely on a visual schedule and some timely reminders to help her along. I’ll also try to catch her doing good especially on her own initiative, and give her lots of affirmation and hugs in return. And maybe the occasional ice-cream treat.

We are all imperfect. We all have room to grow.

The word for me this season? Delight in my children. Affirm them.

They may frustrate me, but I want to remember to delight and rejoice over them. To remember they are God’s gifts to me.

Here are some affirming words I hope to use more often:

1) “You are such a blessing to me.”

2) “You are beautiful not just on the outside but also on the inside, because you are loving and kind to others.”

3) “I loved the way you played with your brother. Did you see how happy he was?”

4) When she comes home from school, replace “Any homework?” with “How was your day?”

5) End off any disciplinary measures with “I may be angry because I don’t like this behaviour…but I still love you.”

How do you like to affirm and encourage your child?

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PSLE changes from 2021 and what they mean for you

PSLE, from 2021, will never be the same again. Here are some of the key changes and implications of each.

stress from test scores

1. Byebye T-score, Hello Achievement Levels.

T-scores which benchmarks each student against the performance of their peers will make way for a broader 8-band system called Achievement Levels. The ALs uses students’ actual scores (not adjusted score based on bellcurve as in the case of T-scores). The new bands will look like this: AL1 (90-100), AL2 (85-89), AL3 (80-84), AL4 (75-79), AL5 (65-74), AL6 (45-64), AL7 (20-44), AL8 (less than 20).

The best PSLE score is 4, and the worst, 32. The current streaming system will remain intact and students scoring 20 points and below will qualify for the Express stream.

Pros:

– This move helps to reduce the fine differentiation of scores among students, and cut down unnecessary competition, giving kids more space to focus on their own mastery and understanding of subjects.

Cons:

– Instead of chasing the elusive mark for a grander T-score, students now need to make sure that they do well in every subject in order to avoid having the total score pulled down by one weak subject. This, to me, will breed fear among parents whose child may be weaker in one or two subjects.

2. Your Order of Choice Matters.

In the existing system, the T-score aggregate is the first deciding factor for posting. The order in which you list your preferred 6 choices of schools is not considered. So if there are 2 students with the same T-score vying for the same spot, it falls on tie-breakers like citizenship and computerised balloting to decide who gets into the school.

In the new system, your order of choice matters. While the AL score will remain the first criterion, the order in which you list the school will come into play. So someone else with the same PSLE score who placed the school higher on his list of choices will get his preferred choice. The next tie-breaking factor is computerised balloting, which is also in the existing system. You may find it reassuring to know it is anticipated that balloting will only affect a small percentage of students.

Pros:

– The new system forces us to weigh our choices carefully. To be honest, I was surprised to know that the present system doesn’t take choice order into consideration as I think back in the 90s, this wasn’t the case. Anyway from 2021, kids and parents will have to select their first choice carefully, based on the actual PSLE score attained, the secondary school’s cut-off points, and other factors such as whether the school’s interest areas matches those of your child’s.

In order to facilitate parents and students’ decision-making, MOE has said that it will provide indicative cut-off points and information on each school’s focus and niche programmes.

Cons:

– None that I can think of right now

But seriously, what are the implications of these changes?

1. Stressful days are here to stay.

I think the changes are in the right direction and were made with the intention of getting everyone to stop chasing the elusive mark, focus on actual learning and understanding, and finding the school that offers the right fit and programmes for our kids.

That said, I don’t think the stress is going to let up anytime soon as it’s still about aiming for the top band (or the best band according to your child’s ability), and fitting our kids into the best possible schools out there.

2. Focus on building weak subjects.

As I mentioned above, children will have to shift their focus from aiming for full marks on their best subjects to strengthening their weaker ones. For most kids these days, the weakest link could be Chinese. (I also have similar concerns for my kids, and our philosophy is to avoid tuition classes for as long as we can help it. For now, we’re pulling up our socks and trying to speak Mandarin more at home. But I can’t deny that the thought of having a Chinese-less grading system is a pretty tempting one.)

3. Looking beyond grades.

On the surface, it looks like nothing much has changed. Different point system, but still the same stress. But I think (hope?) that the Ministry is actually laying the groundwork for further changes. For one, getting parents to assess their child holistically and to consider their strengths and interests in different areas will help to broaden the current narrow thinking that only certain schools are “good” and worth pursuing. It also helps us to go beyond grades, to view our child as a unique individual with special talents, and focus on building them up as self-motivated and passionate lifelong learners.

But here’s the missing link…A growth mindset.

In order for real change to occur, parents, kids, and schools need to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset that says:

“I can get better at this if I keep trying.”

“I am not defined by my failures. They are stepping stones to success.”

“It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get into my first choice of school. There are still skills and interests I can develop here.”

Versus a fixed mindset that says “I am a total failure because I failed this paper.” Or “I’ll never be good at this.”

Mindsets do not change overnight. (I know because I’ve been working on my own for the past few years.) I think in the long run, less emphasis needs to be placed on the PSLE exam altogether, as it DOES NOT define or limit a 12 year old child). Not trying to make light of a major exam here, but really…it’s just one exam in a lifetime of many many more exams, tests and challenges.

Emphasising a growth mindset will enable parents and children to see that it is a  journey and it doesn’t matter so much where you begin, but where you end, and the process of learning and growth that you take to get there.

It will also help our kids develop resilience and grit. Isn’t that much more valuable than a single test score, especially in this information and tech era where mistakes/failure are prerequisites for innovation?

What we do and say as parents can empower a child to grow and thrive and develop a growth mindset.

– Do we allow them to make mistakes?

– Do we emphasise the lessons and experience that can be found in them?

– Do we help them view challenges with a positive spirit?

– Do we acknowledge their effort?

– Do we speak the language and understand the power of YET?

In the same vein, the Singapore school system isn’t perfect, but one that is still evolving and growing with the times. The choices that we make today will have an impact on future generations, so choose, applaud and criticise wisely.

These are just my initial thoughts about the new PSLE system. What are your thoughts/feelings about it?

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