Monday, October 13, 2014

How to Satisfy Screen Time Craving Without a Screen

"Mom!  Can I watch a video?" Screen time is one of the major issues facing conscientious parents .  Our children love to watch videos and play electronic games. So do we.  However, we also know that too much screen time can damage them physically, socially, and mentally.  What should you do about the screen time question?

My husband recently made an off handed comment that changed the way I think about my children's request for screen time.  He said, "You know, it's just relaxing to watch."  

Around the same time I read Dayna's article at Lemon Lime Adventures explaining how some children need more visual stimulation than others.  It dawned on me that my children's requests for screen time might actually be an expression of their need for visual stimulation. I remembered watching rain drops on the window pane as a child.  It was mesmerizing.

It makes sense.  The human brain is wired to take in stimulation from the environment. Naturally, it wants to see things that are complex and beautiful.    I watched as my older two children were captivated by the fluid sensory bottle I put together for my seven month old.  (Get directions to make your own fluid filled sensory bottle from Lemon Lime Adventures). They were both attracted to it for hours. Children are born scientists, and their brains are wired to detect patterns in the environment.

Join your child in enjoying a fluid sensory bottle.

Fluid filled sensory bottles are a great way to study several kinds of science.  You can also use them to demonstrate chaos theory.   Chaos theory is probably most famous for its role in predicting weather patterns and the likelihood of climate change.  It can also be applied to economics, traffic patterns, or sensory bottles.

Start by encouraging your child to move the bottle back and forth in a slow rhythmic pattern, so that the fluid inside moves predictably from side, to side, and back again.  This is an example of harmonic motion.  The fluid moves between the same boundaries, over and over again.

Next, tell him too speed up a little.  The harmonic pattern becomes a bit more scattered, but is still predictable.  In terms of chaos theory, this is called transition.  Depending on the dynamics of your bottle, steady patterns may come and go as your child shakes the bottle faster and faster.

Finally, encourage your child to shake the bottle with all of his energy
.  Even when shaking their hardest, most people will tend to shake the bottle at a set speed and to a set height.  Why then do the particles begin to move in a way that appears chaotic?  It is not random.  In reality, the fluids are responding in a mathematically predictable way to the increase in motion. The fascinating thing is that although the short range movement can be predicted mathematically, there is no way to predict where the particles will go over the long term.  This is a small model of Chaos Theory.

Why explain advanced math to your child?

You may wonder why pointing out chaotic phenomena to your child is something to do in the first place.  I find chaos theory hard to grasp.

However, just like children learn to name triangles before they are ready to count the sides and corners, recognizing advanced mathematical patterns, like Chaos, will prepare your children to analyze their world in more complex ways in the future.

Your child's brain is naturally seeking to experience complicated beautiful things.  Chaos is a natural, complicated, beautiful thing.  By providing solutions like a fluid filled sensory bottle and reveling together in the complexity it contains, you help your child fill their visual sensory needs in a healthy, beneficial way.

Today I am excited to be joining Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors, a project where bloggers are talking about sensory needs in celebration the grand opening of Project Sensory.  All kids have sensory needs, and the desire for screen time is just one manifestation.  Be sure to take a look at what the other teachers and parents have learned, and check out the Project Sensory site as well!

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At Thriving STEM, accuracy is our goal.  If you believe there is a technical error in this, or any post, kindly leave a correction in the comments.


  1. I completely agree with your post. I'm trying to take my children off the screen and have them experience real Math and Science. Love your tips here!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am finding that establishing healthy habits is a continuing process. Best wishes for your attempts!

  2. Love this. I had never thought of kids need for visual stimulation. This gives me so many ideas for keeping them happy without screen time. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Mae! I would love to see what solutions you come up with as well!


I can't wait to hear what you have to say! Thanks for sharing.