5 Ways to Extend Children’s Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities

October 8th, 2013 by Dionna | 18 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Children, Eclectic Learning, Healthy Living, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Strive for Balance

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Welcome to the October 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Technology

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their families’ policies on screen time.


5 Ways to Extend Children's Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities

As much as I like the idea of unschooling screen time (no more fights about TV or video games!), we have not found that self-regulation is the reality in our house at this time. Instead, we have a set amount of screen time, and it usually occurs after we accomplish two other goals in our day (school stuff and a minimal amount of cleaning).1

But video games and TV shows/movies are a big motivator for my almost-six-year-old son, and so I’m trying to find ways to use those activities to further my own {not-so-evil} educational agenda. Here are a few ways we have successfully married technology with activities that do not solely involve sitting in front of a screen.

1. Create movies.

Kieran loves to take video using my phone. He will spend hours performing awesome ninja moves, singing or playing songs, and acting out stories – as long as it’s on video. And then he spends even more time watching himself and his movies. I can only imagine what he is learning during this fun-filled unschooling time.

He never needs any prompts to create videos, but if he ever needs inspiration, I’ll suggest coming up with a story line that involves some of his favorite characters. Alternatively, he could create a “how-to” video that explains the steps necessary to beat a certain video game level.

2. Come up with story problems based on games and shows.

Story problems are so useful. They apply skills to real-world situations, making subjects (math, most often) come alive. For example, how frequently do you multiply fractions? Probably not often, at least not in the form of a straight 1/4 x 4/6 = X format. But if you were doubling a recipe and needed to know how much two times 3/4 of a teaspoon was, multiplying fractions all of a sudden becomes meaningful.

When your child is working on new mathematical skills, come up with some story problems based on their favorite screen time activities. Here’s one we did with Kieran last week:

Kieran and Papa were playing Super Mario. They started out with 50 lives each. After playing for an hour, Kieran had died 10 times in World 8 and 5 times in World 7. Papa had died 5 times in World 8 and 5 times in World 7. How many lives did Kieran and Papa have when they finished?

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3. Role play favorite shows and games.

If you know a kid who likes watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, chances are she is also playing TMNT with her friends. Kids like to take on the roles of characters, to try out some of the things they see on screen or play in a game. You can capitalize on this interest by exploring how to come up with true-to-character costumes, what materials can be repurposed for props, writing new story lines or retelling old ones (on video!), etc.

You don’t need costumes or props, though, to bring on-screen activities to life. For example, we occasionally let Kieran watch Survivor with us. The only parts he is truly interested in are the challenges. Guess what one of his favorite games to play is: Survivor Challenge. We give him multi-part instructions on what he needs to do to complete a challenge: climb up the tree house ladder, swing on the rope swing, come down the rope ladder, swing on your tummy back and forth 5 times, walk around the perimeter of the garden, hop on one foot back to me. Survivors ready, go! He loves it.

4. Use manipulatives to recreate favorite aspects of shows and games.

As an alternative to role playing, tie on-screen situations to other toys. Angry Birds has started mass marketing this idea with real life levels using K’nex and slingshots. (I’d like to think we came up with the idea first by creating a Mario level with blocks. Video here.) Legos, of course, are another great way to build on-screen scenes in your living room.

Besides building, consider getting some show- or game-centered magazines. You can have your child cut out pictures and words (fine motor skills), then use them to play with patterns, create puzzles or collages, or any number of other math or literacy activities.

5. Recreate the story lines at home.

Aside from role playing, there are ways to create meaningful learning opportunities by recreating story lines and activities at home. Our most recent learning co-op class was based on making potions from the Harry Potter series. I found out rudimentary recipes (thanks, Harry Potter wiki), got ingredients that were realistic, and kids used a kitchen scale, a balance, measuring cups and spoons, droppers, and more to create fun concoctions. It was the most fun I’ve ever had doing science.

What ideas do you have to create educational opportunities using favorite shows and games?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (list will be updated throughout the day on October 8)

  • Has Technology Taken Away Childhood? — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama worries that technology is intruding on the basic premise of childhood – active play in all forms! Join her as she takes a brief look at how play has changed as technology becomes more integrated into the daily lives of our children.
  • Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Technology — Jenn at Adventures Down Under describes her children’s love of screen time and how her family implements their philosophy and policies on technology.
  • Kids Chores for Tech PrivilegesCrunchy Con Mommy shares how tying chore completion to iPad privileges worked in her house to limit screen time and inspire voluntary room cleaning!
  • Screens — Without the benefit of her own experience, sustainablemum explains her family’s use of technology in their home.
  • Screen Time – The Battle of Ideologies — Laura from Laura’s Blog explains why she is a mom who prioritizes outdoor natural play for her kids but also lets them have ample screen time.
  • The Day My iPhone Died — Revolution Momma at Raising a Revolution questions the role technology plays in her life when she is devastated after losing her phone’s picture collection from her daughter’s first year.
  • Finding our Technological Balance — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she finds balance between wanting her daughter to enjoy all the amazing technology available to her, without it overwhelming the natural parenting she’s striving for.
  • Raising kids who love TV — Lauren at Hobo Mama sometimes fears what children who love screentime will grow up to be … until she realizes they’ll be just like her.
  • No Limits on Screen Time? Is that Natural? — Susan at Together Walking shares misconceptions and benefits of having no limits on technology and screen time in their home.
  • Screen Time — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares what is currently working (and what hasn’t) regarding screen time in her household.
  • Positive Use of Technology with Kids — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her family’s experiences with early technology, shares helpful resources from around the blogosphere, and speculates on what she’d do as a parent with young children today.
  • why i will never quit you, TV — How Emma of Your Fonder Heart came to terms with the fact that screen time is happening, and what balance looks like between real and virtual life for both her toddler AND herself.
  • Technology Speaks — Janet at Our Little Acorn finds many uses for technology – including giving her child a voice.
  • 5 Ways to Extend Children’s Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities — Looking for a way to balance screen time with other fun learning experiences? Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares 5 fun ways to take your child’s love of favorite shows or video games and turn them into creative educational activities.
  • What parents can learn about technology from teachers — Douglas Blane at Friendly Encounters discusses how technology in schools enhances children’s learning, and where to find out more.
  • 5 Tips for a Peaceful Home — Megan of the Boho Mama and author at Natural Parents Network shares her favorite 5 tips for creating a peaceful home environment.
  • Technology and Natural Learning — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling writes about the importance of technology as a tool for natural, self-directed learning.
  • Babies and TechnologyJana Falls shares how her family has coped, changed their use of, relied on, and stopped using various forms of technology since their little man arrived on the scene
  • Kids and Technology — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis talks about the benefits of using technology with her preschooler, and includes a few of their favorite resources.
  • Using Technology to Your Advantage: Helping Children Find Balance — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how technology can be used or abused and gives a few tips to help children learn balance.

  1. For the record, we also have either a movie or a longer gaming period on the weekends.

18 Responses to:
"5 Ways to Extend Children’s Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities"

  1. Janet   kadiera

    I really like these!

    We watch a lot of educational shows rather than popular character based ones, but there are still a lot of ways to apply this line of thought to them.

  2. Meegs   TattooedMeegs

    Great ideas. We also need to provide gentle limits to Gwen’s screen time. These are great ways to tie her screen time into active play.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      We’re pretty happy with our limits, but we also have a kid who has pretty regular meltdowns after screen time.

  3. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    LOVE the idea of potions! How cool. I’m coming over so you can show me. :)

    Oh, man, that first one — Mikko LOVES taking videos of himself. All day long. And then showing them to us. They’re hilarious! I remember using my parents’ video camera in junior high, though ours was a lot bigger than today’s versions. And the resulting videos are always good for blackmail later on… ;)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I need to utilize the phone camera more often, it really is a great self-directed activity!
      And the potions class was, hands down, the best co-op class we have ever done!

  4. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    Great creative learning ideas, Dionna. I love that Kieran makes his own movies! I pinned your post to my Parenting Pinterest Board. :)

  5. Susan   susanmay15

    Fun ideas, thanks for sharing!

  6. Not gonna lie, my daughter’s OBSESSED with Newsies and I can often get her to do something by just picking a spot to start and reciting lines. She’ll put shoes on, eat lunch, brush her teeth if she’s pretending she’s a NEWSIE doing any of these things.

  7. This is great, thank you. Our granddaughter Sophie is only 3 months old, so I’m bookmarking these ideas for when she’s a little older.

    The nice thing about creative suggestions like these from a grandparent viewpoint – is that we can actually do them with her. Advice on restricting technology or information on the dangers, while interesting, are difficult for us to implement, without becoming intrusive: “Oh, Dad you’re always nagging about that. We’ve looked into it and decided how we want to do it. You can advise us but you can’t tell us what’s best for our daughter.”

    I particularly like your “use manipulatives” ideas, which I can see all sorts of creative possibilities for.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Good for you for taking such an active interest in interacting with your new granddaughter (and congratulations!). Even though nagging is not usually effective, you can always teach by example :)

  8. Great ideas. Mine love to watch themselves in video clips so I’m going to let them start making more videos on their own. The thing I really like about these ideas is that they could act as good transitions. Putting down the iPad can be difficult but if the next activity builds on what they just watched, it seems like that could help. Lots of potential – act out a scene, make a recipe or dress up like the characters.

    One of my favorite shows for young kids is an Australian show called Playschool. It’s filled with engaging activities, terrific crafts, story time and lots of songs. Check it out on YouTube and if nothing else, I’m sure the accent will amuse your kids :)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Such a *great* observation about transitions. Those are hard in our house too, and I need to have some of these ideas in my pocket to help move away from the screen. Thank you!!

  9. Angela   EarthMamasWorld

    Such a great list! Alex loves making Lego movies with an app on my phone. Technology offers so many learning opportunities, screen time can often be educational as well. Thank you for some new idea. :)

  10. duncan faber

    We had a similar problem in our family. Our kids were way too hooked on TV shows and games. Finally, we hit on the right idea. Now, we encourage them to do an art project, while we play audio books in the background. They love them just as much, and they really engage their imaginations in a deeper way. There’s lots of great sites where you can download them, but we use this site a lot because their children’s stories are original and free. Here’s the link for anyone who is interested. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/moral-stories-for-kids

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