Parents are always looking for educational toys, games, book, and activities. Recently, technology has offered even more options.

I am torn by the richness of online educational options and the concerns about excessive screen time. Although I benefit so much from the internet, social media and the online world, I also wax nostalgic for the good old days before we were so attached to our screens. I can remember fondly when children played outside, used their imaginations, and had time to daydream.

My concerns are not unwarranted. We do know that screen time has its drawbacks. It may cause obesity, sleep issues, attention problems and even contribute to anxiety and depression. Children who started watching television before 12 months of age and watched television 2 hrs/day were approximately six times more likely to have language and attention delays.

When children are engaged with screens they are losing valuable time where they could be interacting with those around them, practicing the give and take necessary for developing positive and meaningful relationships.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently issued a statement suggesting a new mode of technology use that can help. I hesitate to report on it because I still feel that abstaining from technology use, certainly when a child is young, is the best way to go. But as my husband always tells me, its time to get with the times. So here it is: “co-engagement.” This is the new byword for children’s technology use. Parents and children engage around a game or app-based activity in the same way they would with a picture book, game or toy.

Online books do offer a lot in terms of education. There are apps you so that you can read together with your child without schlepping along a little library. Furthermore, apps can help you read anywhere, anytime. It is best to find “simple” e-books that are illustrated but with fewer animations because animated e-books can be distracting. To make the reading even richer, it is helpful to pause often to talk about what happens in the book and how it connects to your life. An added bonus, you can also record your own versions of the book using video or audio apps.

Of course, we do need to mention the benefits of video chat and Facetime. These can also help children connect with loved ones who live far away. Grandparents love to see, and children love to share their crafts and drawings in their calls. Grandparents can also read to their children via Facetime. Many grandparents can even do homework with their grandchildren. That can be a win-win situation for everyone.

There is a great resource, Joanganzcooneycenter.org that counsels parents to use apps in the educational category in the app store. For Android: In Google Play, select Family and activate the Education category. iPhone: In App Store, go to Categories, select Education and click Apps for Every Grade.

This website provides many resources for parents including some questions that can be asked to help decide on apps are:

  • Does it encourage my child to explore and deepen their interests?
  • Does it help them engage in creative play?
  • Does it encourage my child to be active?
  • Does it provide opportunities to talk?
  • Does it offer ways to create together?
  • Does it help the family have fun together?
  • Does it bridge activities across spaces (like home and school)?
  • Does it prepare us for new experiences?
  • Does it connect us to distant friends and family?

Some great educational apps are:

For older children it’s important to keep the computer in the central areas in your home and filters should be in place. It’s important to talk about the pros and cons of screen use and have times where everyone is unplugged. Dinner time, an hour before bedtime and of course on Shabbos.

So there you have it. I have gotten with the times. But I still think the best way to interact with our children is to unplug, get outside, play board games and read from real books.