Handling Screentime During School Closures

With schools closing throughout the Bay Area and an increasing number of parents working from home to stop the spread of coronavirus, families are sure to be grappling with how to handle screentime.
Some schools are providing distance learning aligned with their curriculum, while others are offering more generic online educational resources. On top of that, bored kids and busy parents are bound to turn to electronic babysitters for some measure of sanity, while dealing with the guilt and concern over how much is okay.
“I would say, don’t all of sudden freak out and feel like you have to turn yourself into a homeschool teacher,” says Sierra Filucci, editorial director of Common Sense, a San Francisco-based national nonprofit that helps families navigate technology. “Just as much as we have to help our kids learn academics, we also have to help maintain their mental health.”
Filucci recommends taking a relaxed approach to technology during the early days of a school shutdown, allowing everyone to adjust to the new normal, and then coming up with a schedule.
Families with the benefit of a set program from their schools have leg up. Those who don’t can find lots of online learning resources. Common Sense Media offers a robust list of educational websites and apps here
Bay Area-based Khan Academy also has a myriad of free courses, for all grades, including AP classes and SAT prep. As leaders in online K-12 learning, they offer a number of tips for parents on how to start at-home learning, such as beginning with a goal of two to three hours a day.  Learn more here
Khan Academy will offer a free webinar on using its tools, including a step-by-step walkthrough and Q and A, at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, with a recording available afterward. Register here
Great Schools, a national education nonprofit based in Oakland, offers the following grade-based toolkits, with activities, vocabulary, book recommendations and more. Check it out here.  
Beyond trying to replace school, parents will need to find ways to keep kids occupied and manage screentime for entertainment.
“Set aside time for reading. Set aside time for active play. If you can go outside, do so,” says Filucci, an Alameda parent of two teens. 
But “these are unprecedented times. We have to manage our expectations,” she says. “I talked to someone yesterday with younger kids who said, ‘I need to make a conference call. Can I put my kids in front of the TV?’ Absolutely!”
“If they get more screentime for the next month, as long as it’s age appropriate, it’s fine,” she says.
Common Sense Media offers recommendations for high quality, age-appropriate books, video games, TV shows, movies and more here.
Filucci says to follow your child’s cues. If he’s cranky after two hours of TV, try less the next day, or a break in between.
She encourages families to look for opportunities to make a school closure a positive.
“These are unusual times. It’s okay to break your routine,” she says. “If it’s normally ‘no TV during the week,’ set up a family movie night on a Wednesday. The time to bond with your family, to laugh together, will be more beneficial in the long run than maintaining strict rules around screen time.”

Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.


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