Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tips for Watching Videos with Toddlers (with a List of Our Favorites!)

In September 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics made some changes to its guidelines about screen time for young children. One of the new guidelines states that "Co-engagement counts" and that "For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential." I started allowing Little Miss Muffet (now 2) to have a very small amount of screen time sometime between 18 and 24 months of age. Today I want to share some tips that have helped me make the most of co-viewing videos with her.

  1. Choose videos with minimal commentary. Not all, but many of the first videos I watched with Little Miss Muffet were nature videos, which were either silent, except for the sounds the animals naturally made, or set to instrumental music.  The benefit of the limited soundtrack is that I could make my own comments about what we were seeing on the screen without having to pause the video or talk over a narrator. Because I was directing the commentary, I could then draw Miss Muffet's attention to details I knew would especially interest her, or to new information I wanted her to learn.
  2. Connect each viewing session with a book or activity. Watching random videos might have some educational value, but it's even more likely that your child will learn something if you watch videos with a specific purpose in mind. When Little Miss Muffet was really into Jim Arnosky's Little Lions, we started watching this video about lion cubs at the San Diego Zoo. Now she knows what they eat and which toys they like to play with. When the National Zoo's panda cub was born, we would check in on the Panda Cam a couple of times a day to see what the cub was doing. Now that Miss Muffet's favorite book is Owl Babies, we like to watch the video adaptation, too, and this has really contributed to her memorizing almost the entire story word for word. You don't need to have an entire lesson plan  to accompany a video, but even just a simple book, craft, or game should be enough to reinforce the video content your child consumes.
  3. Interact with content. Watching a video is never a passive experience for Miss Muffet. We discuss everything that is happening on the screen. We identify colors and animals. We count how many birds are in the sky, or how many tusks an elephant has. We dance along with Michael Rosen's rendition of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, and identify the speaker of each line of dialogue in Owl Babies. Very occasionally, she will be allowed to sit alone and watch a video, but it's always one we have seen before, and usually, she will do at least some of what I have modeled for her even if I am in the next room and not directly involved in the presentation. 
  4. Set limits. This is another recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. For me, setting limits means we don't watch videos endlessly without a plan. I will usually select a number of videos that we will watch, or a set amount of time that we will spend watching. Typically, the maximum number of videos we watch in one sitting is three, and I doubt we have ever watched more than 20 minutes total in a single day. She asks for screen time much more often, but I stand firm in my limitations and suggest other activities instead. Videos are provided solely at my discretion, and never simply because she wants to watch one.

  5. Build a playlist. Always pre-screen videos before sharing them with your child and plan how you will use them. I usually do this during nap time. I search for videos on topics that we have been discussing a lot, or of books that we especially like and save them for later viewing. This way, I am never scrambling to find appropriate content while Miss Muffet is watching, and I can also anticipate what is coming in the video as we're viewing it so I can tailor my commentary accordingly. By building a playlist ahead of time, I always know that I am sharing content of value that does not include any age-inappropriate material.

Little Miss Muffet's favorite YouTube videos are below:

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