Screen Time that Works for the Family! Apps & Online resources for Peace and Sensory Support for Kids.
As a yoga teacher, a parent and an occupational therapist, I walk a fine line between embracing the digital world wholeheartedly and high-tailing it to disconnect from it. Fortunately, my personal guideline of focus on the kind of media to which I expose my kids is what keeps me balanced on that fine line in a healthy way.
Every family benefits from screen time guidelines that work for the individual family needs, though the individual needs will vary between every family and between every child within each family. Though I don't feel there are any one-size-fits-all blanket statements for screen time boundaries for any child, I do feel that parents know their kids best, and they can help the kids determine what kind of screen time is right for them. In my family, I focus on distinguishing between screen time that lifts them towards a more peaceful and empowered life and what kind of screen time limits their function in life or withholds their contributions to the world. When we focus on the quality of screen time and how it supports the individual needs of each child, I think we can find screen time that works for the entire family!
Once I tease out the quality of screen time, the duration of time usually works itself out. Given the context of our environment and purpose, I am able to set a time-frame keeping in mind that our bodies need to move big movements for 10 minutes of every hour at a minimum to maintain good cognitive function and self regulation.
I tend to recommend apps and resources here that support a parent and child through real life as opposed to drawing them away from it. I also like apps that can involve both the parent and child working together because all research points to kids thriving with increased parental connection. When screens are utilized as a way for parents and children to come together harmoniously regarding life management, I think that's a tool worth using! I have done my best to include apps and online resources that would involve both a parent's agenda (teach and guide a child towards a happy, healthy, independent life) and a child's agenda (learn and discover through play). This is by no means a complete list. I invite you to comment and share apps that you feel support peaceful living, sensory enrichment and support through modern life.
Here are some resources that I personally and professionally use for sensory enrichment and peaceful family living for preschool and elementary aged kids (many are linked to iTunes store, but are also available on Android devices).
First Then Visual Schedule by Good Karma Applications cost: $9.99 This is not a cheap app, but when it comes to schedules, you will spend about that for supplies and time spent creating one yourself or buying one online. This is a time-management, attention and schedule support for those who benefit from a structured environment and it helps to lower anxiety through transitions. This is a convenient way to carry a schedule with you out of the house. If kids demonstrate worries about saying goodbye to you at school or demonstrate resistance towards any part of the daily routine, or have difficulty staying on task independently, schedules can be an amazing salve for the struggle. I use schedules often, even in my yoga classes and private sessions, which helps kids feel empowered and more at peace about moving through a daily routine over which they have very little control.
iEarnedThat app by Kidoc, LLC cost $1.99 This is not your mother's star chart. It is a multi-sensory way to move towards a goal. I love that as an app, you can take with you in the community, or help a child move towards a goal in multiple environments. I appreciate the multi-sensory components of the puzzle element (visual-spatial and visual motor). I love how the puzzle pieces can be a playful and engaging way to move towards a goal. Any time you add play and fun into the mix, you encourage intrinsic motivation so that the extrinsic motivation (actual physical reward) ends up just being bonus! I always love the rewards that strengthen family connection and involve fun family activities such as a special family outing or activity, etc.
From the App store: “Turn any picture of a desired reward into a 3Dinteractive jigsaw puzzle of up to 60 pieces. Set the goal and have your child earn their reward one puzzle piece at a time.”
LetterSchool Multisensory writing app. Cost: $ 2.99 As an OT, I am compelled to highlight a writing app. This app is for preschool and younger elementary school children. I love LetterSchool from a sensory perspective, and how it teaches kids the structured motor sequence of writing each letter. Both of my kids love it, too! This is the one of only two apps (the other is Articulation Station) I have included that promotes a more sedentary and individual activity, but since it is a fine motor and cognitive task, I feel it's appropriate. My kids have enjoyed this app so much, that I began setting an app timer (see Kaboom App Timer below) to remind them when it's time to take a break.
Articulation Station: cost: Free (for articualting P) purchase sounds individually up to $49.99 for all sounds and activities. Created by a Speech Language Pathologist and offers practice at word, sentence and story levels (not a substitute for a good SLP, though). Target sounds can be purchased as needed. Kids love that you can record their voices for playback. Articulation is tied into the vestibular, tactile, proprioceptive and auditory processing sensory systems. Work on one area, and you positively affect the others! Plus, this is a fun way to work on articulation. Remember how I feel about fun? Strongly. Fun circumnavigates functional deficit. Play more, my friends.
Kaboom App Timer cost: $0.99. Simple app timer that reminds the kids when it's time to take a break. It has worked well for our iPad mini, though I notice it doesn't have the best reviews. Set a time and when the time is up, the device will lock and require your passcode to unlock it.
Me Moves App: cost: $9.99 for ages 3 and up. Visual Motor integration with calming elements. Also exercises attention, focus, rhythm and timing and bilateral (both sides) motor coordination. This is an expensive app by my standards, but it addresses so many sensory systems in such an engaging way, I feel it would be a disservice to exclude it. It would be wonderful to use when a child has to be relatively still (waiting rooms, airplanes, cars, etc) because in addition to offering good brain development work, it also has a calming element so desperately needed by many kiddos. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
Yoga Spinner App by upside down games cost: $0.99 Yoga for kids! What more do I need to say? Nothing really, but I will anyway. This app exercises the vestibular system (movement and balance) and proprioception (posture and body awareness) with strength building in a fun game format. Play yoga by yourself or enjoy partner poses with others!
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street. Cost: FREE. For ages 2-5, but my 6 year old loves it as well. This app works on calming techniques such as belly breathing, and demonstrates examples of creating multiple solutions for solving problems. I really love this app. It models deep breathing and offers solutions to common difficulties for preschoolers (such as putting on shoes, taking turns, saying goodbye to parents at school, etc). And it's FREE! My 4 year old loves to breathe with the monster, and I have been able to use "breathe like the monster" as a cue for her when she gets frustrated.
My First Yoga Animal Poses for Kids. Cost: FREE Great for younger kids or kids that need a sensory break. This is a very simple app that demonstrates animal themed yoga poses with audio instructions.
Gratitude Journal 365-Diary for your Happiness cost: FREE or upgrade for $1.99
This app allows you to upload pictures and type in your gratitude. What an awesome way to practice gratitude with your child! Many kids with sensory differences or neurological diagnoses (such as ADHD, ASD, Asperger's, SPD) have increased stress responses. A gratitude practice has been demonstrated to increase mental health, boost a feeling of happiness, lower stress responses and lead to easier time with transitions, changes, and unexpected circumstances, according to recent research. I highly recommend this app for any kid, though. Gratitude benefits all humans, and teaching a practice in childhood can be a gift of prevention in adulthood. I admit, I hog this app for myself. It's really a lovely practice to do something fun with the cell phone pictures I take every day and turn them into a gratitude journal on my phone!
Sleep Meditations for Kids: by Christianne Kerr cost: FREE (also see her bedtime meditation app for $4.99)
Christane has a beautiful accent and soothing voice. This app offers 4 audio tracks that help children up to age 12 calm down and transition to sleep peacefully. Lest we forget that the screen can just be used for listening, this awesome meditation app reminds us!
Too Noisy App Noise level meter cost: Free or upgrade to $2.99
This app is a wonderful way for parents to maintain sanity in the car when the noise level rises (ahem, I would know). Also works really well for the environment for which it was designed: a classroom. I most love it as a biofeedback tool to support a child toward learning voice modulation (how to be aware of and regulate voice volume when a child speaks too softly or too loudly). I have kiddos that have no trouble projecting voices, so this app allows us to throw a little play into keeping voices at a volume I can tolerate. Less hounding from me, more ability for my kids to recognize on their own what is too loud and what is just right.
TracknShare LITE - cost: Free or upgrade to pro. A self-help life management journal to track and share your health symptoms, life goals, mood, exercise, habits, and remedies. cost: FREE
If a child is old enough, he can track this on his own, but I think it's also an amazing way for a parent to track a child's life management to better understand what affects a child's sleep, stress, etc. Also see it's sister app: Autism Tracker LITE, which is geared more for behaviors that are typical of children with Autism, sensory processing disorders and ADHD.
Calm Down Now: cost: $1.99 Empowering tools and relaxing sounds for instant help with panic attacks anxiety sleep yoga & meditation. This app is geared more toward adults, but I love the sound bank where you can combine different sounds at your own choosing (ocean waves with flute), which is great for assisting with relaxation for sleep. It's easy enough so that kids can choose which sounds they want to combine as a fun way to relax before sleep.
Free website for Visual Learning: Eyecanlearn.com excellent FREE website that I have recommended to many of my clients! Offers visual attention and visual processing exercises.
Free Website for Sensory Support: A Sensory Life http://asensorylife.com/
“Three steps for sensory success...Educate. Embrace. Engage. Respect a Child's Sensory Differences...It Will Change How You Respond”
Yoga Hammocks with Exclusive Online Kids' Aerial Yoga Demonstrations (shameless plug). This is my version of using the digital world as a tool for managing real life in a well way. My hammocks delivered to you with exclusive online access for watching demo/instructional aerial yoga videos. I wouldn't put it out into the world if I didn't believe in it and know it to be helpful to the WHOLE child. Get more information HERE.
How do you use screen time as a positive tool for your family life? Do you have any resources to add? I'd love to hear about your thoughts in the comments below!
Lindsey Lieneck, MS, OTR, RYT, is owner of Yogapeutics in Austin, TX where she has developed the Yogapeutics Aerial Yoga & Mindfulness curriculum for kids. She teaches classes, consults with parents & schools and educates other professionals on the Yogapeutics curriculum. Read more about Lindsey HERE.
See the Yogapeutics class schedule and offerings: