Screen time is one of those things that we often feel guilty about. However watching my kids grow up using technology and seeing them learning to play through their interaction with screens, I am beginning to feel less guilty and now embracing screen time.
Screen time and autism
Let’s face it screen time is a big deal for most kids. When he was 2 and a half my son was extremely hard to engage. He is non-verbal so we introduced the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with him. In order to get him communicating with PECS we needed something he really wanted and would ask for over and over again. The iPad was that motivator. The excitement at getting to do a puzzle on the iPad each time was what we needed to get him started using PECS sentences.
He is now 5 and can now use an app on the IPad to communicate using PECS. That’s definitely positive screen time.
Personally I have found my kids learn really well from certain apps. Many educational apps now are developed to be adaptive to the learner’s ability. This makes so much difference to my son who is developing differently to his peers.
My son is also very visual and screen time is visually stimulating. There are many things that my kids have learnt from using educational apps like counting and spelling.
Both my boys have had speech and language or communication issues and screen time has been really helpful to support them. It was hard to get my kids to engage with books at first but when they saw familiar characters from the TV screen (Peppa pig / Stick Man) they were keen to read the books with me.
Screen time can be a good thing if it’s the right kind of screen time.
Mardles and the Future of Play
I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Sharon from Alive Labs at the Blog On Conference. She talked about the future of play and how screen time is part of that. She talked about how screen time is here to stay and using that technology to enhance play. It’s all about the right type of screen time – Active not passive.
Sharon then described the Mardles products they have developed (more on that in a minute). She talked about how important it was to her that the apps that go with the products are free, have no in app purchases and no need for Wi-Fi. As a parent she knows how important these things are and the aim is to have technology that is all about encouraging interaction, not selling you more add on’s.
‘When technology is used well within toys it can enhance the play value’Amanda Gummer, Good Toy Guide
Active vs Passive Screen time
Passive screen time is things like watching YouTube or TV, this kind of solitary or passive use is not going to encourage interaction. However active screen time where you need to think or even be physically engaged is actually very beneficial.
‘Evidence suggests that encouraging certain media behaviours (for instance co-use and active goal directed use) can help young people gain the most from digital media.’The British Psychological Society
Blog On attendees were gifted a Mardles interactive storybook and sample DisccovAR colouring page to try out. Here is how we got on with ours.
Mardles interactive storybook –Don’t Be Afraid Little Snail.
On its own the storybook is a charming story about a little snail who is afraid to leave his home. With some help from a mouse the snail learns that life is not that scary after all.
The book is full of visually appealing pictures. Helpfully the pictures are not overcrowded so it is easy to follow the story with the pictures alone, a big plus for us.
Stories that Come to Life
It’s using the app with the storybook that creates the magic. You can download the Mardles app for free. You then point the app at the marked images within the book. The app scans the image and brings it to life.
My nieces were in awe of the augmented reality (or magic as they put it). And my youngest thought it was hilarious that he could tap on the screen to make the dog bark or butterflies fly away.
My eldest son was a little wary of this strange new way to read a book and at first would only look over my shoulder. After getting used to it he is now really enjoying the book, his favourite bit is making the plane fly around our living room.
A fantastic way to read books with the children, they are really engaged waiting for the next page to come alive.
It is very easy to use although I would recommend having a practice before you have kids wanting to use it, grabbing at the screen while you try to scan the page. For the augmented reality to work the app needs to see the whole page and the younger kids needed help to hold the screen in the right place.
A lovely feature of the app is that you can take screenshot photos. My son really enjoys looking through the pictures and seeing the plane coming out of the book. When using the IPad or my husband’s IPhone the pictures went straight to the gallery. On my android phone they were a little hidden as they saved in my files.
Monkey Madness discovAR Colouring
We were given a sample page from the discoverAR Amazing Animals colouring book. We all enjoyed colouring in our monkeys.
The discoverAR app which is also free to download allows you to create a guide character that will explore the colouring with you. The kids enjoyed creating their guides. After you have your character set up then the app can scan the colouring page just like we did with the story book.
The beauty of this is it sees how you have coloured the picture and it is your colouring that comes to life even my 3 year old’s scribbles.
My niece was very impressed with her pink monkey. They also loved that the monkeys were making noises while dancing about at our table.
Again you can save screenshot pictures within the app to keep.
There is also a sample page from the Galactic Quest colouring book on the Mardles website that you can try. My eldest son particularly enjoyed doing this one.
Both the book and the colouring provided really active screen time opportunities. I really love what Mardles are doing with these products and I really do recommend you give them a try. They also make stickers and masks, I may have to try out some stickers with my kids.
The Autism Page Online School
You may also be interested in my online course ‘ Communicating with your non-speaking child‘.