One of the most frequently asked questions at Open days and during kindergarten admission interviews is: why does the school stipulate that kindergarten children should not be exposed to screens?
The early years team believes in, and promotes, a ‘screen free’ childhood for the children attending kindergarten: indeed that is why we ask you to sign a home school agreement confirming your commitment to this. We would like to take this opportunity to further explain some of the underlying reasons for taking a stance against the prevalent screen culture of today.
Recent research suggests that children exposed to screen-time may experience: heightened stress hormone production, developmental delays, behavioural issues, and may have problems with social skills, academic performance and self-control. Increasingly doctors are prescribing free play and time in nature for children whilst more young children are demonstrating signs of addiction to electronic devices. Conversely some children in Germany are protesting against the social media-use of their parents, using the slogan: “play with me, not your smart phones”
“The best toys are those that support children playing, pretending and interacting together. You just don't reap the same rewards from a tablet or screen” (American Academy of Paediatrics, 2018). In kindergarten we notice children who have access to screen-time, are more chaotic in their movements and are stuck in the images they have seen: making it difficult to create their own imaginative stories in play. Children become restricted by the story lines of popular programmes or games. They embody the characters they see and they get frustrated when they can’t develop those story lines because their play is re-running someone else’s creativity rather than originating from, and developed by, the child out of their own imagination.
In kindergarten we work through the will of the child using experiential learning. The children are constantly “doing” and using their bodies. Watching TV, a film or even playing an electronic game is inherently a passive activity for the body whilst the brain is bombarded with fast moving, intense images often accompanied with an equally powerful sound track. The child’s senses and the images sent to the brain reach overload whilst their body is essentially dormant. There is an imbalance, which undermines the holistic development of the child.
In kindergarten we offer the children an outlook on the world they can readily understand, through real life activities such as cooking, handwork, gardening, woodwork and cleaning. They learn how to make sense of the world through their engagement in these activities and their own free play. The rich imagery in the stories we tell also supports children in developing their own self-created mental images.
At Greenwich Steiner School children learn about computers from Class 6 on wards, at a time when developmentally they can more fully understand the technology they are using. It is interesting to note that many parents of workers in Silicon Valley (the home of Google and other digital companies) make the conscious choice to delay their children's exposure to screens, by opting for the nature-rich, cultural and artistic traditions of Steiner Waldorf education. They value the ability for their children to experience an “analogue” reality before that of a “virtual” world, as an antidote to our current times.
Looking ahead to Screen Free week: April 29 – May 5, 2019, we would like to encourage you to reflect on your own relationship with screens, and what role electronic devices play in your family.
The Early Years Team