The Clash Between Limiting Screen Time and the Coding Craze

With Screen Free Week beginning Monday, I have been debating whether to encourage my children to take the pledge and give up screens for the week of April 29th-May 5th, but I worry about our ability to make this commitment as a family and with a newborn in the house I am unsure I can deny those rare minutes of quiet from my 3 and 6 year olds!

Screens, and their impact on the lives that utilize them, are creating both opportunities and challenges someone of my generation would never have predicted in our formative years. We never had the opportunity as children to experience the rewards or consequences associated with their use. After all, our largest draw to computer screens was avoiding typhoid fever on the Oregon Trail.

Educational resources and expectations, however, are changing. You may have heard that coding is quickly becoming considered a vital language to learn while in the K-12 system. The California Board of Education is implementing computer science content standards to go into effect July 31st of this year. California Computer Science Standards

Navigating the balance of opportunity while protecting today’s youth from unintended consequences of excessive screen time can be daunting. My 6 year old wants to play video games so badly he created a screen and controller out of markers and cardboard and proceeded to play it.

Gamer at heart!

We know that parents have an obligation to reduce screen time, but do educators have an obligation to consider this as well?

According to the American Public Health Association and their endorsement of Screen Free Week, the answer is yes.

Screen Free Week Information

Turn off TV Week began in 1994 and in 2010 evolved into Screen Free Week which will take place April 29th-May 5th in 2019. Screen Free Week is now championed by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood whose website includes numerous resources for educators including promotional materials, school materials, pledge forms to sign, family guides, parent letters and lists of activities-all of which come in English, Spanish and French.

But with an emphasis in reducing screen time, it is still imperative that we allow our children to explore this new world and scientific learning that computers, iPads, phones and other devices give them access to. According to Trish Williams of the California State Board of Education, “Computing jobs are the largest sector by far of all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs. In California alone there are currently 75,000 open computing jobs waiting to be filled, in every industry sector across the state. The average salary for those jobs is $110,000. The social mobility opportunities that a computer science degree and/or computing skills can provide for California’s low-income students, those of color or English learners and girls are enormous.” Find a great article by Trish Williams in EdSource here.

So how do we teach computing skills in a competitive culture of learning without an overexposure of screen-time while also nurturing a child’s sense of creativity, spontaneity, and collaboration?

Here is a list of educational tools (some which have educator resources for implementing into the classroom) that will allow students to develop some pretty amazing/computational skills broken down by age. ALL are STEM based and screen free:

3–5 year olds: Code-a-pillar


Product Description: “Code-a-pillar inspires little learners to be big thinkers by encouraging preschoolers to arrange (and rearrange) the easy-to-connect segments in endless combinations, sending Code-a-pillar on his path. This learning toy encourages experimentation while developing important skills like problem solving, planning & sequencing and critical thinking.”

Buy Code-a-pillar Here

4–6 year olds: Robot Turtles

Robot Turtles

Product Description: “Develops critical skills — Gameplay provides a stealth learning experience, where players learn key programming principles in a fun, easy to learn way. Inspired by the Logo programming language, Robot Turtles lets kids ages 4 and up write programs with playing cards.”

Buy Robot Turtles Here

6–9 year olds: Ozobot


Product Description: “Ozobot makes Evo and Bit, pocket-sized coding robots that come with infinite ways to play, create, and share.”

Educator Resources Here

Buy Ozobot Here

8–Adult: Turing Tumble

Turing Tumble

Product Description: “Turing Tumble is a revolutionary new game where players (ages 8 to adult) build mechanical computers powered by marbles to solve logic puzzles. It’s fun, addicting, and while you’re at it, you discover how computers work.”

Turing Tumble has both a generous educator discount as well as a bulk order discount that can be used for classroom and school orders. Don’t forget to check out the educator guide with lesson plans here.

Buy Turing Tumble Here

I don’t believe we can or should shield our young children from screens entirely. Any parent knows that there are the times when you turn to a screen for survival. With a newborn in the house after a long stretch of medically required bed rest my kids are a bit addicted to screens at the moment! But even beyond that, smartphones, laptops, iPads and other devices are very much a part of our culture, our work lives and our social lives, so I believe a healthy introduction is imperative for our youth both in school and at home. Many educators and parents are finding new screen free ways to teach students critical skills for the future and the hands on collaborative aspect that these tools provide create a new context in which to promote curiosity in learning.

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