Screen Time Alternatives


“What is one unhealthy habit you want to change?”

A couple of years ago, my third and fourth graders answered this question in a health test. They  had just finished a unit covering components of healthy living that included diet, exercise, sleep, and screen time. Almost without fail, the students’ responses included statements such as “I want to do less screen time.” “I will watch fewer movies.” “I will play less Xbox.”

Though delighted at my students’ resolutions, I recognized that they needed to replace screen time with other pursuits before they would successfully give up their overuse of electronic devices. They and their parents recognized their need for change but no change was likely to occur just because their values were in the right place.

In his blogpost titled “Shaking up Amusement,” Kendall Myers says

“Our families have shared the perspective that it is much better for children to do something active than to sit passively in front of a screen.  We believe that children need to get outside and play, to be creative and interactive, to use their imaginations.  We believe that children need to learn responsibility and diligence and to work with their hands as well as their minds.”

Yet, we’re seeing more students whose screen time practices do not align with the values we hold. Kendall Myers addresses the potential consequences of this problem and ends his post with two questions:

“What are we as educators supposed to do about this? How do we raise awareness about this issue for our patron families in an appropriate and helpful way?”

I want to address Kendall’s first question from the perspective of an early elementary teacher.

What are we as educators supposed to do about the allure of visual media? How can we redirect students who are giving unhealthy amounts of time to electronic devices?

I’ve been giving thought to this question for a number of years. James K.A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom helped me think about how our practices shape our loves and how these loves form the beliefs and values we hold. If that’s true, it seems to me that every teacher who finds compelling ways of introducing healthy habits, skills, and interests to her students has a fighting chance of shaping their loves and directing them toward lives of productive service.

So which habits, skills, and interests should I cultivate in my classroom? Which pursuits will compel them away from their screens and out into the wide world? My list is a work in progress and I emphasize different things each year. I’ve seen my students begin to take their new interests home and this causes me to hope for progress in our struggle with the addictive nature of electronic devices.

Habits, Skills, Interests Why How
Reading chapter books Screen time provides a quick, temporary thrill while sustained effort and attention on a long story provides real pleasure as well as academic results. During library time, I give book recommendations to students and encourage them to tell each other about the books they enjoyed.
Hands-on crafts and activities


Students who overuse screen time are learning to be consumers rather than producers. Hands-on activities teach them the joy of being producers. Puzzles of all kinds allow students to practice problem-solving skills they miss if they are constant consumers of visual media. On a table at the back of my classroom, I lay materials and an idea from a book like this one: How to Make Flibbers, etc.

Students work on these during free time.

Puzzles are another effective free time activity. Consider jigsaw puzzles, tangrams, and hands-on puzzles.


Nature Walks Children learn to love activities through repeated exposure. If students learn to love nature, they will shut down their computer and head outside. My students enjoy themed nature walks, such as an edible plants walk or aquatic insects walk. I frequently lean on the expertise of nature lovers in my community for help with these.


More recently I’ve added another item to my list: Naming and watching pieces of God’s creation such as stars and constellations, trees, wildflowers, and birds. I plan to follow up with some posts that trace the progress of our metamorphosis (both of the students and myself) into lovers of God and nature.

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