A lot of you requested a blog post on screen time, and while I already have one I realized it’s almost 2 years old and a lot of things have changed in that time! I decided to write an updated version of that post — you can still go back to see what we used 2 years ago HERE, but this is what we’re doing currently (with children ages 5 and 3.5) and the reasoning behind it:
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 Lila 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 Nora 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 Lila 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:
I feel like there are phases in our lives where we watch tv most nights, and then other phases when I can’t even remember the last time the girls watched a tv show. Right now, we’re in one of those phases where the tv hasn’t been on for at least a month, possibly two. In the winter, the girls kept getting sick one after the other, and it seemed like the tv was on every day. No matter which phase we’re in, our rule is one show (22-28 minutes), then the tv goes off. What shows do we watch?
We don’t have network television, so our choices are limited to what’s available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood was the very first show that I ever let the girls watch, and it’s still one of their favorites! I first 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 were especially helpful in our family when the girls were toddlers. Lila memorized them all, of course, and she actually sang them in the appropriate situations. I let Nora start watching Daniel Tiger at about 18 months, and she was equally entranced.
Dinosaur Train is another favorite in this house, and I feel no guilt whatsoever letting the girls watch it. They have learned so many facts about dinosaurs just from watching the show, and I’m always amazed by what they retain. The girls even love to “play Dinosaur Train” around the house and outside, with each one choosing a character to be (Lila loves to be the conductor, of course) and riding the train to visit other dinosaurs.
The Magic School Bus is MY favorite one for us to watch together, as I remember watching it when I was a kid. We’re still on the old school episodes and haven’t started the newer version yet, but it’s still relevant today and this is another one that teaches the girls so much about a variety of subjects. Lila walks around with a notebook telling everyone special things “according to my research,” just like Dorothy Ann, and it’s so sweet!
That’s it! Those are our tv show choices.
Just as with tv watching, movie watching frequency changes depending on the phase of life we’re in. When we were in the process of moving last summer, the girls watched A LOT of movies. Now that we’re all moved in, I can’t remember the last time we watched one. The girls are particularly fond of princess movies, with Frozen and Moana being their current favorites. We have the soundtracks to a lot of the movies, and we definitely listen to those more often than we watch the actual movies.
The girls don’t have their own iPads or other devices, but they are allowed to use mine — only on road trips. When we’re in the car for hours at a time, they can take turns playing on the iPad. We set a timer for 20 minutes, and the girls can play for that long once on the way there and then again on the way back. Occasionally they’ll get to play it more than once, but they’re usually busy with other things and don’t really need it — it’s really more of a treat than a way to pass time at this point.
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.
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. The girls don’t watch YouTube alone, and we really only use it for homeschooling.
The girls do not have their own phones, but they are occasionally allowed to use my phone and my husband’s for very specific purposes. Each night at bedtime, they check the next day’s weather on my husband’s phone so they can plan what they’re going to wear.
We FaceTime my mom every week, which is a special time to get to share everything we’ve been up to while getting to see her face (and she gets to see them). What a time to be alive! I can remember when I was a kid and my mom would go on trips where sometimes she couldn’t even call us on a regular phone if she couldn’t find a pay phone — and here we are video calling each other!
Lila also loves to text people! She holds full conversations via text message on my phone, and I don’t see how it’s much different from handing her a movable alphabet — except that this way, she gets a response! Currently, this is probably the most used form of screen time the girls have right now. If we’re not busy, I say yes every time they ask to text someone — but it’s still only once every few days, if that.
And that’s it! As I said, we really don’t use it a ton, but it’s also not forbidden. I see a lot of pros to a bit of screen time, especially in the world we live in today. I have not seen any negative impacts on my own children with the small amount of screen time they are permitted.
I made this argument two years ago in the original screen time blog post, and I still stand by it today:
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 2019. 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.