Screens & Screen Time: a Precarious Balance (Soapbox Series #10)

The Soapbox Series is a periodic post that allows me to vent, share, or comment on ideas, experiences, and topics that may or may not relate to the literacy and reading mission of the blog.
tv_xfswiaWhen I was a girl, there was only one kind of screen: television. It was for spending our leisure time. It gave us a window to “outside worlds,” the ones beyond our neighborhood. Most of the time it was turned off, and we were outside, or playing games, or reading, or drawing … finding other ways to fill our days.

Now screens are a “necessary” part of our daily lives and those of our children. We’re using or “on” our screens almost nonstop. Just as we used to use a television as Mother’s Helper at home, we now have smartphones and tablets to help us too.

When my daughter was a toddler and preschooler, we had strict limits on screen time (1 hour a day), and rationalized that educational television or computer games mitigated the advice to refrain from any screen use.

Now, as the parent as a nearly 13-year-old, I am rethinking that logic. Now, screens – namely computers – are so pervasive that life without them is seemingly nonexistent. The educational use – homework assignments, research at school – feeds an addiction to do *everything* with a screen at hand.

  • Drive the 20 minutes to school, and we get requests to play games on our phones.
  • Walking in the door from school, and after a perfunctory “hello,” we’re asked if we can log her on.
  • Offer a print book, and we’re asked if it is available for her eReader.
  • Remind her that her time is up and its time to take a break, and deal with a teen meltdown.
  • Turn off a screen, and we’re confronted with “I’m bored” within 10 minutes.

This is my personal window into the phenomenon of screen addiction. I have struggled with this quite a bit trying to find the right balance. The last straw, however, came in the form of a newspaper article. In yesterday’s Washington Post. On Page G4 (Technology and Innovation, Sunday Business), Hayley Tsukayama recommended an app that teaches kids how to unplug.

Seeing that was like a smack in the head with a 2 by 4. It is a true oxymoron. We need an App so parents can tell kids to get off screens (and it has a built-in timer for parents) to set limits?

For the record: I felt the same way about Nickolodeon’s short-lived series Lazy Town, which told kids to turn off the television and live healthy lives.

Is this a cautionary tale? I don’t know, and it is too soon to really reach any conclusions.

Modeling (ideal) behaviors is a foundation of creating readers and, in a broader arena, parenting. How do we balance the very real need for Mother’s Helpers with living a “real” life?

Sure would love your thoughts!

Literacy Ideas for a Snowy Day

Happy Read Across America Day!

Dr Seuss I can read with my eyes closedEvery day is a day to celebrate reading and literacy, so we’re going to pull some tried-and-true suggestions from the Literacy Lalapalooza archive.

All of them perfectly suitable for having fun on yet another snow day.

Literacy Ideas: Easy as 1, 2, 3

1. Basketball is most definitely on our minds here in Hooville! and March Madness is just around the corner.

H-O-R-S-E can be played outdoors or indoors with a paper-wad and a trash can! Use any word you want for the game – let the kids pick (and of course spell their choice).

2. Today is National Anthem Day. If you had a “personal anthem” what would that be – a song, a poem … you decide.

Get out the video recorder (or your phone) so you can record your anthem and create a video, too! Rock on!

recipe-cards_txjp1y3. Make something yummy.

Pull out a favorite recipe and let the kids help you by reading the directions right along with you.

Off to grab a book (or two or three) and some hot cocoa … what about you?

Black History Month: Strong Women for Strong Girls

black history month google logoTo kick off Black History Month, Google chose Harriet Tubman for its daily Google logo on February 1, 2014. It is so cool on so many levels. It also ties nicely with our theme for Black History Month this year: Strong Women for Strong Girls.

When I read Patricia Hruby Powell’s new book Josephine, the Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, I couldn’t wait to share it with my daughter. It is a beautifully told and illustrated story … and one that I did not know.

That was when I decided to share some of our favorite books about incredibly influential women of color – trail blazers, independent thinkers, confident women. Women whose stories are not talked about as often as other more well-known symbols of influence.

Black History Month: A Collection of Biographies

Music called to Josephine Baker, and when it did, she had to dance. When she heard that there was an all-black show on Broadway, she left her husband and went to New York. New York in the 1920s was segregated. When she went to Paris, she discovered Parisians thought “black is beautiful.” There, she became the star she had dreamed of being as a girl. This is an illustrated biography of Josephine Baker told in verse.

Reader thoughts: I have read this book three times already. By telling Josephine’s story in verse, reader is drawn into a rhythm befitting of the music of her era (1920s, 1930s). The author does a wonderful job weaving in the social and cultural contexts of the time. There are nuggets that most of us didn’t know or wouldn’t have considered (international adoption in the 1930s!), and they create openings for interesting conversation.

Betty Winston Baye; August Press 2000

Betty Winston Baye is a journalist for The Courier Journalin Louisville, Kentucky. This strong, sensitive, experienced, competent, and well-educated black woman shares her thoughts and feelings about the influence that family, religion, role models, mentors, and friends have had on her life. This is an autobiographical selection of some of Ms. Winston Baye’s articles and editorials.

Reader thoughts: The articles in this collection educate, encourage, support, and praise those trying to take control of their lives and families. Though the material has universal appeal, the author strongly focuses on the challenges that face women, in general, and women of color, in particular. This book can be a valuable resource for parents, teachers, and counselors of teenagers as conversation starters on self-esteem, responsibility, and racism, to name a few.

Phillis Wheatley is a young African girl brought to America during the mid-1700s. She is placed with a family that nurtures her natural abilities. Treated with kindness and taught to read and write, Phillis begins to write poetry about her life and times during the Revolutionary War and the people that affected her life. Phillis Wheatley is the first African American and the first slave to publish a book. This is a biographical history for middle readers.

Reader thoughts: This is an interesting, strong biography for middle-grade readers. The text flowed well and the narrative was engaging. Phillis Wheatley is not someone whom you hear of frequently and yet she would be a great role model for children. I really learned a great deal about her and her tremendous contribution to the new America.

America's Black founders
Nancy I. Sanders; Chicago Review Press 2010

Meet the black men and women who played important roles in our history. From colonial times, through the American Revolution ,and in the years that followed. They individuals came from all walks of life and lived throughout the young nation. This is a nonfiction picture book that introduces preteens to historic figures they’ve not heard about.

Reader thoughts: This book offers a wonderful way of not just showing, but engaging kids in understanding the role black men and women played in the early years of the country. These are primarily individuals who have been largely ignored by other history books. The hands-on activities are an added bonus.