Numerous studies have shown that handing your baby a phone or tablet to play with might seem like a harmless solution when you’re busy, but it could rapidly affect their development.
The latest one, published last Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, shows one to four hours of screen time per day at age one to four is linked with higher risks of developmental delays in communication, fine motor, problem-solving and personal and social skills.
We asked experts for screen-free activities that hold kids’ attention long enough for them to focus on other tasks.
Let them make a mess: “Your child needs time and permission to make a mess. If they feel judged or heavily supervised, they are not going to get into a play-flow,” says Robi Mungai, a Montessori teacher in Little Hearts Kindergarten, Nairobi. “Look for ways to control the mess without limiting their creativity, like painting on the balcony. Ensure not to disturb them. Kids learn best through trial and error,” she says.
Mix and sort: “Give your over-four-year-old buttons and encourage them to sort into different tins by size, shape, or colour. Kids love organising and putting things into piles. Working with small items helps them enter into a state of flow,” says Mungai.
Plasticine/moulding clay ideas: Whether homemade or store-sourced, Mungai says the squishy stuff is one of the best mediums for creative fun. “Mix different colours with a rolling pin, cut into different shapes, and watch the child become quiet and busy,” she says.
Explore texture: “Kids love feeling all kinds of textures. Give them slime, beans, peas, rice, sea shells, fabric, dry and green leaves, and utensils to stimulate their senses. Choose larger items to prevent choking for toddlers and check up on them from time to time for safety,” says Jackline Keziah, a preschool and Montessori teacher.
Go ‘camping’: “Get a bed sheet or leso to pitch a tent in the living room then fill it with cosy blankets and pillows for a hideout. Give them toys to keep them busy, or papers to make shapes,” says Keziah.
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Give them books: “Children as old as six months can begin to understand picture books and reading is a vital skill and habit which can be started at an early age. Use simple picture books and short stories,” says Keziah.
Let them help: Research suggests that including age-appropriate chores in a child’s routine as early as age 3 is beneficial as it encourages responsibility and improves ve self-esteem. Children who do chores may also be better equipped to deal with adversity, frustration and delayed gratification.