With a rise in the number of children owning a mobile phone and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that a dramatic increase in screen-time is putting children’s health at risk there is no doubt that parents have a responsibility to limit screen-time and monitor their offspring’s mobile phone usage. It is also beneficial for children to be taught how to use their mobile phones (or tablets) in a productive and creative way- rather than mindlessly watching Youtube videos or playing endless games. Here are ten ways that kids can use a mobile phone in a creative and productive way and ideas that will encourage your child to stay connected with the real world:
1. Use a Phone to Communicate
Okay, this is an old school one and a novel idea. However since smartphones have evolved into so much more than “just a phone” we actually stop using them for their original use. Of course real world contact is always best but encourage children to text, ring and video call with relatives that live afar to keep these real world connections intact. If your teen texts a lot encourage them to make a phone call to Grandma as without this practice we may one day lose the art of conversation.
2. Set Them a Photo of the Day Challenge
Some children are snap happy with their phone cameras, some almost never use them and many teens purely take selfies. Set your children (and yourself) a challenge to take a “photo of the day” challenge. At the end of the day take a look at each other’s special photo of the day- a picture is worth a thousand words about the day they’ve had and can spark a good conversation . If they need inspiration you can set prompts for each day (or search for kids photo challenge for lots of ideas).
3. Make a Topical Video
Generally kids love making videos (and there is an increase in children wanting to make this into a career when they are older). Filming and editing videos are useful skills to have. Challenge your children to make a video about “a certain subject”- it could be about their hobby, a family holiday or a topic that they’re currently learning in school. Working with your children on this can improve their storytelling skills and help kids feel a sense of achievement once they’ve completed the video (when left to their own devices making videos mine often get as far as “Hi, welcome to my channel!” and that’s it!
4. Download the Geocache App and Get Active
Geocaching is the ultimate treasure hunt and a great way to get active while spending time with family and friends. It also encourages children’s geographical skills. Just pack a pencil and paper, a token to leave at the site and a fully charged mobile phone (GPRS trackers can be used to) with the Geocache Mobile app. Remember to wear warm clothes and pack food and drinks. Soon your children will be dragging you out of the house at the weekend and setting Geocaches of their own!
5. Get Coding
Our Government are on a mission to make sure that every child learns how to code as the language of computers is the language of our future. Steve Jobs once said:
“Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”
There are many toys and kits available, such as the JIMU Robot TankBot Kit which is programmed by coding on a mobile phone. The micro:bit is also a great aid when teaching primary and secondary children the art of coding (the BBC donated them to Year 7’s at Secondary School and they are now available to buy too). By learning coding- instead of consuming games, children can start to create them.
6. Audio Books and Music
So if there’s one thing that I don’t normally limit my kids doing on their phone it’s listening to music or listening to audiobooks. There are so many benefits to listening to music and apart from strengthening our memory skills it really increases our feel-good factor. Dancing along builds motor skills, is great exercise, lets them practice self-expression and is brilliant fun.
Audiobooks will never replace reading an actual book but if your child needs some downtime listening to an audiobook is a great way to tick a classic off their list and relax at the same time.
7. Improve Reading
Again reading on a phone should not completely replace the sensory experience of reading a book. However younger kids really benefit from using “learn to read” apps such as Reading Eggs and for older kids having a digital copy of their current chapter book can encourage them to keep reading even when their physical copy of the book isn’t at hand.
8. Use Apps to Encourage Real World Play
Most young kids don’t need apps to encourage them to play in the real world however for kids who do need more support there are lots of lovely apps out there that require “real world connections too. Elmer’s Photo Patchwork requires your child to search and take photos of different textures such as grass or sand and use them to make Elmer’s patchwork. The Gruffalo Photo app works in a similar way and encourages woodland selfies.
For older children Star Walk Kids encourages them to hold their device up and use it to identify constellations and planets, with a mixture of animation and facts to hold their attention and explain what they’re seeing. Pokemon Go is also a great way for getting the kids out of the house and walking to find Pokemon in real life places. Geocaching (above) also encourages real world play.
9. Use a Phone for Education
Phones can be useful tools for education as long as their use is monitored (are they really absorbed in working or are they now playing a game?) Your school may even send you a list of apps that they have set up a paid account for your child, such as Times Table Rockstars.
10. Increase Mindfulness
One important point to remember about mobile phones is that exposure to the screens can interfere with sleep. Children (and adults really) should be off their screens for at least an hour before bedtime. Some families adopt a “no screens after 6pm” rule.
Even when taking into account the effect of blue light on sleep (which is explained in this useful graphic from Tiger Mobiles), you may find that your child still seems more wound up when screens are taken off them. If so make sure that the last thing they use on their phone each day is a Mindfulness, Meditation or Relaxation App, such as Headspace or Relax Kids. Get into the habit of that being the last phone activity and then take the phones away. They can be used at other times of the day too of course.
I hope implementing these ideas will help your child to use their phone in a creative and productive way. Think carefully and check that your child is ready (and really needs) a phone before you buy them one and remember to check that they only use a “healthy” amount of screen time each day.
Have you any other ideas to suggest? I’d love to hear them.