My youngest child starts Kindergarten this year. When I was a Kindergartener, we learned how to play with other children, listen to our teacher, and take turns being line leader. When my oldest child completed Kindergarten a few years ago, he had started reading thanks to a very dedicated and experienced teacher. Standards and expectations have changed a lot over the past few decades.
And things are continuing to change. This summer, while parents and teachers were enjoying summer vacations, our State Superintendent Mark Johnson was going against a committee of professional educators to purchase an online program to assess reading for Kindergarten – 3rd graders. To the tune of $6.8 million. Previously, these assessments had been done student-to-teacher. Now, they will be done student-to-computer. Our beginning readers, our youngest learners, will have their reading strengths and weaknesses assessed online with a print out made available for the teacher.
Innovation! Technology! 21st Century Learning! But… is this really the best fit for our children? Is replacing that one-to-one experience with a dedicated, trained teacher better for our students’ learning?
There are fifth graders older than the first iPad. There’s still much research to be done on the long term affects of screen time for children, but the initial research doesn’t look good. Famously, Steve Jobs said, “Actually we don’t allow the iPad in the home. We think it’s too dangerous for them in effect.” Bill Gates has also gone on record talking about how he and his wife Melinda Gates limit screen time for their kids. Veteran teachers Matt Miles & Joe Clement point out in their book “Screen Schooled,” that “It’s interesting to think that in a modern public school, where kids are being required to use electronic devices like iPads, Steve Jobs’s kids would be some of the only kids opted out.”
What we already know about screen time is enough to make me want to opt my kids out of online assessments and individual tablet use in the classroom.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that 5 year olds, the age of the average Kindergartener, should have no more than 1 hour of screen time a day. My pediatrician makes this recommendation not only for my rising Kindergartener but my rising 3rd grader as well.
Further, the AAP notes that “a growing body of evidence suggests that the use of media while engaged in academic tasks has negative consequences on learning.” Read that sentence again.
And the adverse side effects of screen usage for kids? Sleep disruption, stress, irritability, anxiety, defiant behavior and emotional dysregulation, along with decreases in attention span and the ability to understand facial expressions and nonverbal cues. I’m not done yet. There’s also increased risks for poor vision (including myopia), eyestrain, obesity, less empathy, and decreased gray matter in the brain. For more info, see Psychology Today in 2015 (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201508/screentime-is-making-kids-moody-crazy-and-lazy) and 2018 (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/helping-kids-cope/201808/screen-time-the-impact-kids-and-parenting) plus Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood, published in 2000, available for free online by the nonprofit Alliance for Childhood (http://drupal6.allianceforchildhood.org/fools_gold).
The online platform that was purchased by our state superintendent promises that all assessments can be done 3 times a year, in under 30 minutes.
There’s also mention of over 3,000 lessons made available through the online program to help further “student’s individual needs.” This sounds like more screen time to me, not less. Why 3,000 lessons if this is only a cumulative 90 minutes over the school year? And what about time to “prep” students for the assessments? What I’ve heard from teachers and administrators is that when online testing is utilized in school, there’s more time spent ahead of the testing to prepare the students so that they are familiar with the program itself.
Kindergarten isn’t what it was when I was a kid. Our world has changed over the past few decades.
But is more screen time in our classrooms really wise? One student with challenging behavior can impact the entire classroom. Too much screen time for children can negatively impact their social, mental, physical and educational health. For my kids, I want the ability to be able to “opt out” of individual screen time. I’m guessing Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and I aren’t the only ones.
Asheville resident Emily Harrison is mom to two boys and a member of the Children’s Screen Time Action Network, a project of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. She also serves as a Guardian ad Litem in Buncombe County.