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The Inverse Relationship between Screen Time and Creative Play

We’ve been really busy lately moving house and I’d gotten very lax with screen time. I figured that I could restore the balance again once we were done with all the moving and in the meantime, there would be relative peace and harmony while all the tedious stuff was happening…

…and then Aristotle did something at school to force my hand. Punishment was required and the most effective removal of privileges I could think of was “no screen time”. Yes, total and complete elimination of screen time for a week – at least it started out as a one week total “screen time” ban. The ensuing effects of this ban were so interesting that I felt I had to share them.

My general stance on screens (TV, iPad, computers, etc.) is everything in moderation. I have never had an issue with Aristotle having screen addiction problems because he would willingly exchange the iPad for a book he really wanted to read. He could happily ignore the TV and go off to play imaginary games with his dinosaur train toys. So as far as addiction was concerned, I was not worried – until I had to enforce the total screen ban.

Aristotle is addicted to the screen. There is some mesmerising quality about the screen that draws the eyes there. The total screen ban – apart from being an apt punishment – was also a much needed screen-detox program that Aristotle needed. He had become so dependent on the screen for entertainment that he had trouble coming up with other ideas and ways to entertain himself. Immediately after the ban was put into place, he would constantly be on my case about what he could do to entertain himself. He wanted me to suggest things for him to do – which I refused to do beyond making the obvious suggestions like: “go read some books”.

It took a while, but eventually, he started coming up with ideas of his own, like the treasure hunt game. He also started to ferret out old toys he hadn’t played with in a long time and wiled away the time engaged in true “non-screen” activities. And when he received a stationery set at school from a friend’s birthday party, he created the following…

1. A “Thank You” card for the girl who gave him the stationery kit:

It’s a picture of himself holding hands with the girl under a rainbow.

2. Dinosaur characters from Daddy’s made-up story:

In case your picture-identificaton skills have failed you, the object in the top left is a cave that the dinosaurs lived in. The characters are Ding Dong the Diplodocus (purple), Song Song the Stegosaurus (green), Ting Ting the Tyrannosaurus (red and yellow), and Phlong Phlong the Pteranodon (orange).

He also picked up his World Almanac workbook (they are sort of like the Brain Quest workbooks) and has almost finished the entire book including the Math section – something I never thought I would see him voluntarily do without any prompting from me whatsoever. I’ve always thought that Aristotle’s Math knowledge was limited to simple addition and subtraction. It appears he was listening when I tried to teach him about multiplication after all because he could do the chapter on multiplication! And I thought I was talking to a brick wall…

Overall, what I was most pleased to observe was an increase in creative and imaginative play – something that had dropped considerably with increased screen time which led to a dependence upon the screen to provide for the imagination.

I still believe in allowing some screen-time because there are some really fantastic educational apps available for the iPad, like Bobo Explores Light (this one is really, really clever! I hope they make more…) and Splash Math. Exposure to programs like Octonauts and the Rob the Robot have been beneficial in helping to expand Aristotle’s interests from purely dinosaurs to include ocean life and robots. He confesses that he doesn’t know a lot about robots but would like to learn more… robotics?

This experience has reminded me that moderation is extremely important. There is a very fine line between acceptable and too much that needs to be maintained stringently. Stepping over that line is easy – especially when we are busy with other things.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

7 thoughts on “The Inverse Relationship between Screen Time and Creative Play

  1. Hi there, He can do multiplication??? Wow, now I am kiasu! Haha! And nice drawings…he has progressed considerably to just stick mans. My son is still doing stick mans…sigh!


  2. BTW, you bought World Almanac Book from Book Depo? I am thinking of getting one but buying from Book Depo will take at least 2 weeks!


    1. Hi Irene,

      So sorry for the late reply. Yes, I bought the book from Book Depository. There is one bit I dislike – they have a section on money and it’s all in US denominations. Even I don’t know the answers! But otherwise, it’s kind of fun. Aristotle is getting bored of it now though… 😦

      Well, I didn’t know he knew multiplication. I thought he was still only on addition because he still balks at Math whenever I ask him to do it… :-p I was kind of surprised that he did the Math section in this book. I wasn’t expecting him to. He just decided to do it himself…


  3. I like his drawings too! 🙂

    We’re still on zero screen time, and I’m a strong believer of letting the child find ways to occupy himself meaningfully. Recently, Vee has been waking up earlier than I do, and he’d play by himself / do jigsaw puzzles, etc. for up to 1+ hour. Complete bliss!

    Happy moving!


    1. Thanks MieVee. In the old house, Aristotle used to read books if he was up early in the morning. It was great because it encouraged Hercules to read, too. Unfortunately, I could only sleep in on weekends when Aristotle had no school…

      Now that he’s more independent, I can usually ask him to wash himself up and get his own breakfast if he’s up early. Then he’ll head to the play room to read books or play. I get to sleep in if Hercules sleeps in – otherwise, I’m up as well 😦


  4. We limit screen time too. I find that my daughter is drawn to any kind of screen because we don’t let her have very much screen time. Other children seem not as interested, maybe because they get to watch it so much, while you could plop her infront of anything and she is glued. Children learn through their senses. I think most shows and games capitalize on that and aim to over stimulate. Your son’s dinosaurs are awesome!


    1. Thanks True Aim Education! The screen does have that mesmerising quality on adults, too :-p I guess that’s the reason why they call it the “idiot box”.


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