If screen time is bad for babies, should we really be encouraging families to watch CBeebies’ The Baby Club? Well, yes.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s new research made headlines recently, stating that “Screen time is not recommended” for under-twos. Their main point was that “Improving physical activity and reducing sedentary time… in young children will improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing...”. You can’t really argue with that. WHO reported clear research findings. But their recommendations are debatable.
There’s a difference between leaving a small child in front of a screen on their own for hours, and sitting together to watch and chat about something. Technology is all around us in the 21st century. And making parents feel even more guilty can be counter-productive.
So why have we been involved as educational consultants – through Helen Stroudley, who manages our local Peep delivery (and colleagues at the Foundation Years Trust) – in actively encouraging parents to watch The Baby Club together with their babies on BBC TV?
The Baby Club is directly aimed at parents/carers as well as their baby or child – the first CBeebies show of its kind, for parents and children together.
Families are actively encouraged to join in. Each episode is based around a familiar everyday object (such as a cardboard box, sponge or soft toy) which the families at home are told about in advance. The viewers can then join in with exploring the object and related songs. The presenters chat about the different objects and about how the babies are exploring them, helping develop the babies’ early talking, listening and language. They are also modelling a way of chatting with babies for parents who might feel uncomfortable talking to a baby who can’t yet talk back.
The programme provides ideas for activities that research has shown make a significant difference to children’s early learning – singing, sharing books and stories, talking and playing together.
These kinds of simple but fun activities help strengthen parent-child relationships – and make it more likely that both parents and children will want to repeat them in the future.
The Baby Club encourages parents to go out and join a ‘real’ baby or toddler group – which tend to include even more songs and activities – as well as the opportunity to meet other families. The programme also provides an important source of support for families (including through social media) who – for whatever reason – find it difficult to get out of the house. Feeling socially isolated can negatively affect both mental and physical health.
Peeple’s approach has always been to work with parents and carers, sharing child development ideas, activities and information. Henry (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young) have a similar ethos of ‘working with’ rather than ‘doing to’ parents – and it was reported this week that Leeds, where the Henry programme is used, became the first UK city to see a drop in childhood obesity rates.
We’re all more motivated to do things when we understand how we will benefit – and when they fit easily into our busy lives. Active play is no different. The Peep Learning Together Programme helps parents to make the most of the play and learning opportunities in everyday life – helping to strengthen family relationships and improve children’s outcome, by sharing practical ideas and information.
Are we therefore saying all TV’s ok or only The Baby Club – or what? Well, it’s parents’ call how they spend time with their baby or toddler. And bringing up a child is hard work, in case anyone hadn’t noticed. So offering alternatives to ‘too much’ screen time - by sharing easy, fun, low‑cost activities for parents to do with their baby or child (whether via TV, social media, parenting groups…) seems like a step in the right direction.