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Independent Play: Managing Screen Time

{This is Part 3 of my series on Independent Play. If you’re jumping in for the first time on this series, you can read parts one and two here and here}



We can’t seem to live without it these days. The world our kids are growing up in is so different from the one we grew up in back when we were kids.

I didn’t have my own mobile phone until I was twenty years old at university. Even then it was just a clunky old hand-me-down brick simply to make short phone calls with.

When I was growing up, we only had three channels on TV. Children’s programs only ran from 4.00-5.30 on weekdays and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Nowadays we have dedicated children’s channels running cartoons and children’s shows all day long.

Gosh. I sound so old talking like that.

But my point is. Technology is not a necessity. It’s a wonderful convenience, yes. But it is possible to live without it or at least with less of it.

TV and devices themselves are not evil. But because they are so convenient, it can be easy to get careless and fall back on them too often as a distraction item or babysitting device.

In fact, over-reliance on screens and devices to entertain or distract children can do more harm than we realise. It actually robs children of their ability to play independently. If a child constantly needs TV and electronic games to while away their boredom, it can actually affect their ability to concentrate and focus on tasks and even chip away at their imagination and creativity.

Even if they are watching an educational programme or playing with an educational app on a device, let’s not kid ourselves, all that stuff is nowhere near where real learning should be happening. Real learning happens in the real world… with our hands, our feet, our senses, our conversations with real people, doing real things with actual physical objects.

But let’s get real… I myself personally don’t think I’ve managed to stick to all the recommended guidelines on banning TV for babies or limiting screen time to just 30 minutes a day. But I do try to remain as vigilant as I can about it, be intentional about the programmes we watch and guarding the amount of screen time for my kids.

So here are my personal tips on how I manage and guard screen time for my own kids…

Establish set times in daily routine for screen time
In my own daily routine, I selected two strategic times throughout the day for screen time to aid with transitions. Once in the morning after morning tea and one more time in the afternoon before nap time. The morning slot allows me a short break to regroup, clean up and get ready for the next activity. The afternoon slots helps the children to settle and wind down quietly before having their nap.

Whatever your situation is, think about your daily rhythm and routine and decide what works for you. Establishing some set screen times minimises the chances of falling back on the TV as a filler in the day.

Choose to watch programmes, not TV
What this means is that I select specific programmes for the kids to watch during the day instead of just turning the TV on to watch whatever is running. If there are a couple of programmes the kids really look forward to or want to watch, I try to work those times into my daily routine or record it ahead of time so they can watch it later during their screen time.

Choosing specific programmes helps you be selective about what your kids watch and establishes screen time as an intentional activity rather than just surfing around for random things to pass the time.

Try to watch it together with the kids or talk about it afterwards
Whenever possible, I try to sit down with my kids to watch the programme together so it can become a family activity and it shows them that I care about their interests. It also gives me the opportunity to get interactive during the programme together with the kids like singing and doing the actions of a song together or talk about what we see happening in a story.

Alternatively, I try to make it a point to talk about the programme afterwards or later on. This might also work for some situations with older kids who are past the age of singing and dancing to Playschool or The Wiggles.

Don’t download children’s apps or games on the phone
It’s definitely convenient to have some back-up apps on your phone or device to while away the boredom when waiting at the doctor’s clinic or the bank. But the truth is, once kids know it’s there they will constantly try to nag at you to play with your phone. So finally one day I decided to delete all the children’s apps and games on my phone. Instead, I try to have conversations with my son or read books together.

I do still pull out my phone sometimes, but when I do, we only use it to look through photos and talk about the people and events we see in the pictures together.

Set up some invitations to play or create
This definitely takes a little bit of planning and preparation, but it’s definitely worth it. And it doesn’t always have to be over the top. It can be as simple as putting out sheets of paper, crayons and markers for drawing and colouring, or some play dough, cookie cutters and cooking toys. When children see a little invitation like that before them, they will naturally gravitate toward it.

I’m also discovering the concept of “less is more”. So I’ve started storing away toys and rotating them every week. I found that having just a few toys out helps kids focus more instead of pulling everything out and getting bored with the ‘same old thing’. An old toy can become novel and fun all over again when it hasn’t been played with in a while.

Set up a reading corner for the kids
One of the best things I’ve done was to set up a little children’s reading corner in my home. All it took was just gathering all the books together in a nice little nook, throwing a comfy rug on the floor and some cushions to go with it. I was quite amazed by the results of this very simple project. My little ones naturally gravitated to that spot on their own at random times throughout the day to flip through a book on their own.

Another great tip I learnt from my Early Childhood Education course lecturer when she came to visit my home was to stand up a few books in the reading corner. This is a clever way to make the books stand out and invite the little ones to pick them up for a look.

Stand up a few books in a reading nook to invite kids to have a look

Thanks for following along on this series with me. I hope you found it helpful or managed to take away some useful tips to apply in your own situation. Happy playing!

>> Click here for the full series on Independent Play


P.S. Here are few related articles on screen time which are really are worth checking out…


Linking up to Jess’s IBOT party


  1. We don't stick to 30mins a day, most days it'd be about an hour or just over because she watches giggle and hoot at lunch and dinner for 1/2hr to an hr each time. I'm trying to hard to play with her more with toys or books so she doesn't just rely on the tv for entertainment.

  2. I really love the notion of watching programs, not TV. Watching TV for the sake of watching it, isn't beneficial.

    We watch Playschool and Mister Maker. That's it.

    We read a lot of books, and I think that real, paper-based children's literature, is sadly declining in popularity (even further) because of apps.

    Thanks for the great read.

  3. My eldest 2 have turned into massive screen heads and I am putting a stop to it, I am putting the password back on their tablet and making sure it is out of reach unless I say they can use it.
    I will have to do my own post about this subject I think.

  4. I try and do what works for the day we are having. We do lots of reading, lots of time outside, lots of crafty things if they feel up to it and especially on weekends we do sit together and watch movies or battle it out on Minecraft - for me, the key is doing things together and not being isolated on opposite ends of the house Josefa #teamIBOT

  5. Great tips and yes I thing that sometimes a little bit of screen times teaches them to just 'be' for a bit :)

  6. I've cut way back on screen time, so I'm really happy with the balance we have. And my kids are great at independent play as well so that makes me happy. :)


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