Why Is The Giraffe In A Box?

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Missy is a little over two and a half years. The world is brand new and magnificent! A walk in the neighbourhood holds endless adventure and she is curious about everything she encounters.

She loves ants and can spend considerable time observing them. She throws down crumbs from her snack box hoping she will get a chance to see them carrying the crumbs in one long row.

Caterpillars too hold special fascination for Missy, as do cows (India has plenty of these gentle creatures on her roads), dogs, butterflies, beetles, squirrels, birds, cockroaches (yes, you heard right, cockroaches!) and every other animal that we co-exist with in our urban environments.

Yes, Missy’s world is a fascinating place.

Television, the i-pad, the computer and other varieties of screen time are not a part of Missy’s life.  But sometimes Missy encounters these.

Recently she was visiting one of her relatives who was watching a ‘childrens’ movie on television. Missy was riveted to the screen – singing, talking animals!!! Who Knew?

But if this was it, I wouldn’t be writing about a giraffe in a box, now would I?

That night, her mum was awakened to Missy crying! She was inconsolable. When Missy did finally calm down, she asked tearfully, “Why was that giraffe in a box?”

Missy was referring to the snatches of the movie she caught that morning – a giraffe was in a box and was being forced out with repeated prods from a log! It was supposed to be a slapstick and humorous scene, mind you – but to Missy it was the stuff of nightmares.

How was she to process what she saw? It was terrifying and sad.

Here’s another conversation with a child who just turned three. We shall call her Miss B.

Miss B: “You know one day I went to a f-a-a-a-a-r away place. It wasn’t here – it was f-a-a-a-r away. I met Tom and Tom could stretch his face up and down”

Adult: “Is Tom a cat ?”

Miss B: “Yes, I saw him in a far away place. It was scary – I got scared”

There are a million and one excellent reasons why young children should not have any screen time. For this post I will  stick to just ONE.

Aptly highlighted by the above anecdotes, young children have a difficult time distinguishing the real from the not real, fact from fiction, reality from fantasy.

They have found themselves on a brand new planet. From experiences in their environment they make generalizations about how things work and transfer these to their everyday life. What our young are doing is building their ‘road map’ to navigate their surroundings.

Nature helps them by ensuring their brains are wired in a way that they can go about their great work . Their great work can only be done through active exploration of their environment. Through this exploration the child will ‘incarnate’ their environment. Big word – incarnate. But, that is exactly what young children are doing everywhere in the world.

Television and other forms of screen time, are too abstract and confusing for the young child.

Not only is the child a passive viewer, but television often provides an inaccurate and counter productive picture of reality and the child uses this as their raw material to navigate their world! Fears and unrealistic ideas of cause and effect are served up to the young child through television and other forms of screen time.

Added to this is the fact that the images and sounds children encounter on television, the computer and other forms of electronic devices, do not stop when the button is switched off. They continue to ‘play’ in the child’s mind. Montessori called this ‘flight’.  The child is physically present but mentally is in some ‘f-a-a-a-r off’ place. Flight further distances the child from her present, here-and-now, environment.

Everywhere I go I see tiny mites, some still in diapers and prams, fiddling with phones, I-pads and other electronic devices. Often I see adults push these gadgets into their child’s hands so that they may continue with a conversation. At restaurants I constantly observe children with a  screen in their hands. The immediate environment instantly recedes. There are no people, no objects, no voices, no activity –  just finger poking and swiping and beeps and twangs.

Screen time places hurdle after hurdle for the young child.

Like I said in an earlier post, Urban India needs to wake up, turn their television sets off, put their computers to sleep and take their children out for a walk !

Screen Time

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A usually vivacious and self-directed girl of 7, had been coming late to school everyday.

She spent the first hour or two walking around in a bit of a daze. She was finding it difficult to choose work and when she did, it was easy work that did not provide much of a challenge.

I sat her down for a little chat. We spoke about whether there have been any changes to her days. Nothing much had changed.

Then we spoke about her morning routine. Err, actually, yes, there was one small change. Along with her daily dose of toast and eggs at breakfast, she was getting some television too!

She thought about it a while and said, “When I do get  to school the characters (from the television show) are still in my head. I can’t turn them off”

Without having done all the scientific research, controlled all the variables and so on, most Montessorians will say that television viewing and early use of the computer are detrimental to the development of the young child.

So, what is this opinion based on? On the most powerful tool we have, observation.

We have observed that children who are exposed to large amounts of screen time (television or computer), often exhibit some of the following:

  • delayed language acquisition
  • inability to focus ones attention
  • frequent flights into a fantasy land
  • rough play, which is less creative and imaginative

Here is what Jane Healy, author of ‘Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It’, has to say in an interview with Stay Free Magazine:

“We hear what we want to hear. People do not want to hear that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under two should not have any screen time. Parents do not want to hear that the amount of TV their children watch has caused them problems in school. It’s easier to say, “He has a brain disorder.” And the fact is that many of these children do have brains that function differently. We know ADD runs in the family to some degree, but we don’t know how much of this is a function of this type of early environment.

The computer software that’s being rushed into market is training kids to be attention deficit disordered. It’s training them to be impulsive, to have meager finger control because they’re just using a small part of their motor system. These are the hallmarks of attention deficit disorder.”

In her truly inspiring book, ‘Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful:Preventing Exclusion In The Early Elementary Classroom’, Donna Goertz, recommends no more than 2 hours of screentime on non-school days, per week, for children in their early elementary years.

Urban India needs to wake up, turn their television sets off, put their computers to sleep and take their children out for a walk!