Healthier Screen Time - Making Online Media With Your Kids

I'm delighted to introduce a guest post from site manager and educator Merrill Cook on how to encourage healthier screen time with your children...

One of the largest studies ever done on the topic noted that 8-18 year olds spend over 7 hours a day consuming media. From the earliest days of children watching the “idiot box,” hopes and fears for whether television media could be educational or not were postulated. 

As media has been more greatly integrated into classrooms, and many parents have begun to take a more hands-on approach to managing the education of their children, studies have begun to catch up with what exactly media does to kid’s brains.

Did you know that children younger than 2 have a hard time guiding their behavior by what they see on a screen?

How about that children that use media more than seven hours a day show premature thinning of their cortex? (The outermost layer of the brain to processes the senses.)

Both of these facts are related through the idea that children -- particularly younger children -- learn best experientially. Even the most high definition screen and audio system have been shown to be no match for actually witnessing an event in the world. And tactile sensations play a major role in learning for younger children.

There are of course advocates for guided screen time. And in today’s world, it’s hard to imagine a kid being prepared for life without some time online. Minecraft, one of the most widely studied online games popular with kids has been shown to aid in a number of educational outcomes. Namely, Minecraft can enhance life skills, can complement school learning, and enhances skills related to future work.
What I've taken from this - as well as other educator’s I've worked with - is that general screen time isn’t great. But that specific activities on screens can be great. Not only for the benefits they can provide education wise, but for the fact that kids love to spend time on screens. One of the major keys to learning - as we all know - is motivation.

So what are some of the best forms of screen time?

To list a few, ranked:
  • Learning about a task online then trying it out offline
  • Creating media online
  • Researching a topic online
  • Entertaining Activities in Which Kids Build Things and/or Socialize
We could provide examples of different media options that fit for each of these categories all day, but would like to spend some additional time on perhaps the most untapped form of educational time online: creating media with your kids.

Creating something, particularly an object in which writing is involved, is known to be the highest order of thinking. In order to write about something, you have to evaluate, synthesise, analyze, and interpret information from multiple sources.

You may have heard educators say that if you can’t write about something, you don’t understand it. Creating something is a close second, but it’s the abstractions of linguistic thinking that really make writing a top tier form of learning.

So how should you go about helping your child to make media online?
First, you should seek out sites that excite your child. Maybe they have tons of videos, pictures, maybe stories with their favorite television show characters, maybe how-to guides, or sites on a certain era of history. This can start like a scrapbooking project. Or maybe your child likes the idea of making their own “magazine” or “newspaper.”

Secondly, you’ll need to determine where you want to host your child’s creation. For younger or more visually-inclined kids, even just setting up a pinterest or tumblr blog can be a great choice. For theatrical children, a YouTube channel can be a very entertaining choice through which they conceptualize ideas for a show, write a script, act everything out, then edit their video.

If your child begins to take a great interest in formatting the media, and is interested in creating their own site, you can begin to look at things like Wordpress blogs. Wordpress powers about ⅓ of the internet. And is one of the lowest “barrier to entry” content management systems. Basically it can be a quick and easy way to set up a blog or something more.

You should be aware that and are different. is a great place to start with free hosting. You can upgrade to hosting that is managed by for a fee. But there aren’t nearly as many ways to customize your site as if you find your own hosting.

To find your own hosting, you’ll need to use’s version of Wordpress. The primary difference between the two Wordpress sites is that is a commercial arm of offers hosting services, while offers a free open source blogging platform that you can install where you like.

There are a ton of great options for finding your own hosting service. This will enable you and your child to customize your kids site to a great degree. Some terminology that may be helpful when figuring out Wordpress with your kid includes:

  • Wordpress Themes which change the visual feel of a site as well as some of the functionality and layout.
  • And Wordpress plugins which add functionality like the ability to create a shop, or host a game on your site, or insert a slideshow.
While the creation of a blog for your kid may seem like overkill, just note that the most basic tier of most hosting services is under $5/month. Wordpress is free, and takes about 5 minutes to install. And even if you just get an initial few hours of creation with your kid, it’s likely cost more than hiring a babysitter.

While the above options may just seem like common sense. And perhaps comes to mind more easily as someone who works in online media. I’ve talked with many parents to whom the idea had never occurred.

When I was young, I was motivated by making some extra money and sharing my observations. My mother keenly observed this and helped me to set up my own “newspaper.” Neighbors would begrudgingly give me a few cents per paper in which my 10 year old self would write about the weather, create graphs detailing activities of pets in the neighborhood, and so forth. I would count my times working on that paper as some of the best education in my life. The key, it tapped into my motivation.

If your kid loves to be on a screen, see if you can guide them towards productive activities online. Tons of new tools make it easier than ever to create awesome media. And if it doesn’t work, you’re just out of a few dollars and have spent some time with your kid.

*Collaborative post