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Active learning is critical to brain development

Updated: May 1, 2019

Play and active learning are critical to optimal brain development. Neurons in the brain strengthen and connect as children move, explore, and interact in the world.

When we watch young children who are engaging with screens, one of the first things we notice is that they are not moving or using their whole bodies. Their bodies are more passive as their attention is absorbed by the screen. The focus shifts from moving to looking. From acting on the world to re-acting to what’s on the screen.

This is a very significant shift in energy and attention for a child. Further, there is something even more significant. When a child propels herself forward physically—to grab a toy, to crawl, to stand—she is taking initiative to act in and on the world. When a child looks at a screen, not only is she more passive, but also her attention shifts away from her own initiative.

Ideas to create Age appropriate learning that does not involved screens:

1. Surround young children with opportunities to move and explore using their whole bodies and all of their senses.

2. Provide young children with all kinds of objects to explore. And try to give them lots of opportunities for social interaction--remembering that kids grow cognitively, socially and emotionally as they actively engage with materials and people.

3. Keep children away from screens in the first two years of life as much as possible and keep screen use to a minimum throughout the early childhood years. When a child wants screen time, we can ask ourselves: “What is the potential of this activity for fostering imagination and/or social development? Is there a more beneficial, more fully engaging experience available for my child right now?”

4. Try to provide a space (even a corner of a room in an apartment can work well) and uninterrupted time for children to play every day.

5. Give children undefined materials (playdough, art materials, blocks and building materials, household objects) to play with that will encourage the deepest, most creative and expanded play possible.

6. Try to pay conscious attention to our own use of mobile devices in the presence of children and try to set devices aside until later as much as possible.

7. Try to make screen use with children a conscious choice and not one we turn to automatically.

8. Try practicing the art of being fully present with children—giving them our full attention-- even if it’s just for a few moments.

9. Avoid using screens to occupy children or to distract them from difficult feelings or moments. Keep open-ended materials like playdough, markers and paper, building materials easily accessable.

10. Be alert to the school environment children have and advocate for classrooms that engage kids through playful learning and allow them to follow their own curiosity rather than the didactic learning that is so widespread today.

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