I have been getting a lot of questions about screen time lately (over on my Instagram account in particular), so I wanted to address the elephant in the room:
We DO allow our children to have a limited amount of screen time.
I have received SO many judgmental messages and comments about this — so many. I have been called a bad parent and had my “Montessori-ness” questioned. One person even told me [I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the gist]: “I know you can stop damaging your kids with screen time. I (and the rest of the Montessori community) will be there to help support you in it when you’re ready to make that decision for the good of your family.” I’m not joking.
Friends, I’m not giving my kids meth. But I do allow them to watch an extremely small amount of television, and occasionally even play on the iPad. Why?
Perhaps like many of you, I intended to not allow screen time until at least age 3. I actually made it until L was almost 2 before I turned on the tv for her. While it shouldn’t matter what my exact reasons are for why I changed my mind, I’ll tell you anyway because that’s probably why you started reading this: I developed postpartum depression about 2 months after N was born.
For me, postpartum depression meant that I experienced debilitating exhaustion all day long. While my memory of that time is foggy at best, I distinctly remember struggling to keep my eyes open in the middle of the day while caring for my two young children. Honestly, I needed a babysitter — and what I had was a television. So I used it.
Even in that state, I pre-watched several shows before settling on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Each day when I just couldn’t last any longer, I would put it on for L and close my eyes for just 28 minutes until it was over.
My depression responded extremely well to medication and talk therapy, and I am back to my usual self now. But I still let my children have some screen time. This is what we use and why we still use it even though I don’t need it [as much] anymore:
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
When I was watching different children’s shows trying to find one I could live with for L, I was struck by Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood over all of the others. There are many educational children’s shows out there that work on numbers and letters, but we didn’t necessarily need that. I chose Daniel Tiger for its strong social-emotional element — the show does a great job of highlighting experiences and feelings that are common in young children and sharing good ways to handle them. The songs have been especially helpful in our family. L has memorized them all, of course, and she actually sings them in the appropriate situation. I let N start watching Daniel Tiger at about 18 months, and she is equally entranced. I have no regrets about allowing my children to watch this show. We currently watch one episode about 4-5 times per week — not every day, but almost.
If you’ve ever watched L on Instagram, you know that she knows every single word to every single Disney song ever written. That doesn’t mean she’s constantly watching Disney movies, but we do watch 1 or 2 movies per month as a family.
My children don’t have their own iPads, but they do occasionally use mine — only on days when we haven’t watched Daniel Tiger or when we are traveling. Did you know that there are actually Montessori apps for kids? These are a great alternative for when you don’t have the physical materials with you (like in a car), and they help to develop hand-eye coordination and size/color/shape differentiation skills. [This isn’t a sponsored post — just what we use at home]:
We are doing Montessori homeschool preschool over here, and I have found many great resources on YouTube — especially for our continent studies. We have used YouTube videos to watch musicians playing traditional instruments in Singapore, to explore how Pyramids may have been built, and to venture inside far away castles. I don’t have the financial resources to travel the world with my kids as we discover different cultures, so I am grateful to the people who share their experiences on YouTube for our in-home viewing pleasure.
So how can I still be “Montessori” while allowing screen time in our home?
I guess that depends on your definition of “Montessori.” Montessori purists would say that it’s absolutely not possible. Screen time obviously wasn’t invented yet when Maria Montessori was developing her philosophy of education. The Montessori method is one that includes movement and experience of physical objects, which is not found on screens.
I would say there’s no such thing as Montessori purism, because the very method is based on individualism! But I also believe that Montessori is progressive and takes into consideration innovation and the way the world is changing. It’s 2017. I use technology every single day — and for far more than just 28 minutes a day! My children see me using screens. They will probably have a job someday where they need to know how to use screens.
I would argue that screen time is the practical life section of the 21st century — or at least a part of it.
I’m not saying that screens should completely replace all hands-on practical life skills, but when used responsibly, I can see a place for it in Montessori. Not a HUGE place, but a valid place.
If you have asked me about how much screen time you should allow, or if you read this article specifically to get some insights [and not just to judge], then I would say you’re already doing the right thing — you’re trying to make an informed decision to raise your children the very best way, while also taking into consideration your own needs as parents. I’m not arguing for unlimited screen time, or even that screens should replace person-to-person interactions or other forms of learning. But they exist. I use them. You use them. Your kids might use them. And that’s okay.