Ask any teacher what challenges they face in the classroom, and I guarantee you one of the top 10 answers will be screens. Probably one of the top five. How do we march bravely forth with Lord of the Flies and expect to compete with the instant gratification offered by YouTube or Fortnite? How do we convince a generation accustomed to in-your-face, immersive entertainment that intellectual struggle is rewarding and can even be a source of joy?
And of course, there are the physical effects. As screens have become more prevalent, so has childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. Many kids have a smartphone or tablet in their room at night; how do you keep a kid awake if they’ve been texting and gaming until 4:00 am?
Teachers agree that parents need to limit their kids’ screen time. But are we part of the problem?
My second grader came home yesterday, and I asked him what he did in school. As he went through his day, I totaled up how much of it was spent on screens. Homeward Bound in class this morning: two hours. iPads in technology class: one hour. Free play on the Chromebook after lunch: 30 minutes. Boss Baby in aftercare, despite the fact that the weather was beautiful: 1.5 hours. My seven-year-old spent five hours on screens—WAY more than we would allow him at home.
And I get it. I’m a teacher, too. Papers have to get graded. It’s the end of the year, and everyone is squirrelly, their brains done with learning. Sometimes, logging into Netflix is the only way to get a few minutes of peace and quiet.
I experience this as a mom, too. I’m fanatical about limiting screen time … to a point. And then, at some point, dinner has to get cooked, and there’s only so much entertainment I can provide while wielding knives and fire. If my two-year-old and seven-year-old spend the occasional meal talking in British accents, thanks to Peppa Pig and Minecraft videos, fine. We’ll do better tomorrow.
But as teachers, we’ve got access to a resource parents don’t have: a room full of kids who are around the same age. There are tons of ways we can use kids to entertain each other—and leave us alone for five freakin’ minutes—without resorting to screens.
1. Group Projects
Kids love anything that’s self-reflective and allows them to work together. Let them make a board game that shows their adventures in your class during the year. Then you’ve got a solid three hours of group-work time (although you may have to resolve the occasional marker dispute), plus another hour or two if you let them play each other’s games. Or, with older kids, have them write a song that represents their year or put together a PSA for the students you’ll teach next year. Or hang up butcher paper and let kids make a graffiti wall of quotes or lyrics that have inspired them.
2. Individual Creative Projects
Need a little more peace and quiet? Divide your class into two groups and give each kid in each group a story starter. They continue the story they have and then, every five minutes, pass it to the next kid to continue. At the end, you’ve got twenty stories written by your class! Let older kids create a playlist that represents their school year and write about what each song represents to them.
3. Guest Speakers
You know a comic-book illustrator? Great! You’re friends with a financial consultant? Sure! Anybody with any kind of personality and the desire—or at least willingness—to spend an hour talking to kids about what they do is good enough. Time to outsource the job!
It’s the end of the year and, if we’re being honest, not everyone has the energy for learning or teaching at this point. We’ve been at this for 170 days, and we’re just tired. Good news! Find a shady spot, post your grades, and let your kids get some much-needed physical activity. If your students are younger, pair up with a buddy so you can take turns actively supervising.
Honestly, it’s the last week of school here, and I could not care less if my kid learns anything or not. I just want him to run around and play with his friends instead of watching another episode of Boss Baby.
We’d love to hear—what’s your stance on end-of-year screen time? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.