On Screentime & Reaping Benefits of Technology

There is a lot of marketing, research and branding out there, some telling us how to let our kids get ahead with technology, and others to stay away from it at all costs because it's rotting our brains! What's the real scoop in all this? How can we incorporate the advantages and benefits of technology into our daily lives while maintaining good brain health? And perhaps even more importantly as parents and teachers, how can we do this for today's kids?

Well, last month, I joined in a teacher chat on the Piano Parent Podcast with fellow teacher Judy Wilkins, and the podcast host, Shelly Davis to talk about this exact topic. In the course of our discussion, I found myself really glad that we were talking together, and enjoyed the down-to-earth and actionable tips that Judy shared that were still flexible enough to fit a range of family & personality dynamics. 

You can listen to the full episode in the player below, or go check out the shownotes on the podcast's website.  I'll continue on here with what I found particularly interesting.

So, what were my big take-aways? 

Well, I always love some good scientific research, so I found the studies that Judy shared with us really interesting. In particular, I really appreciated the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for screentime use at different developmental stages. Here's what they say: 

  • "For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline." - Citation Link, American Academy of Pediatrics
I like that this is reasonable, considers that technology is a part of our world, and recognizes that technological literacy is important. 

So now, how do we apply all this to piano lessons and home practice within the Dawn's Piano studio? 

Well, studio parents & students may have noticed that we have a piano lab in the studio with an iPad & a digital piano. Both of those are pieces of technology that make it possible for us to have group lessons (to the point that we are likely adding one more digital piano this Fall!). How can you know that this is a beneficial use of technology? Here's how it's set up to insure that students are engaging in critical thinking and building piano skills & music theory knowledge: 
  • Piano lab time starts around primer level (age 5-6), in preschool lessons we very rarely use that piano, let alone the iPad. 
  • The first thing students do at piano lab is grab a pencil & work on any written theory assignments for the week.
  • Second, they check the "App of the Week" assignment on the hanging chalkboard that changes every Monday. These apps are either Musition or Auralia apps that zero in on a specific music theory concept or aural training skill. Each one is leveled, so beginning through advanced students can choose the appropriate level of difficulty in the chosen concept. (For example, if the app of the week is Rhythm Tapping as pictured here, a beginning student would choose level 1 and only be given whole, half and quarter notes in the rhythms to tap to the metronome's beat. An advanced student could choose as high as level 10 and be tested on much more complex rhythms & meters).
  • After they've completed the App of the Week assignment, they can switch to Piano Maestro. In this one, while students use the digital piano to play the notes that scroll by on the screen, they are also hearing the backing track to increase their awareness of rhythm and flow. It's a very rewarding app to use in terms of how it's gamified and leveled, but most importantly, it does a terrific job building those essential sight reading and timing skills. 
With the written work before-hand and the rotating nature of group lessons, students are often doing iPad assignments for 5-10 minutes, it's short and focused so they are on task and working on things that will benefit their music studies. 

If you're wanting to implement some apps into home practice, there are some terrific ones available, try:
  • Choosing an app that partners with a skill we're trying to achieve. Maybe it's sight reading, maybe it's rhythm & pulse, maybe it's music theory, but choose an app that's relevant to a current lesson focus. 
  • Keeping the iPad time to 10 minutes or less of practice, so students can get those learning benefits, but still spend the bulk of their practice playing their pieces. 
If you have any brilliant ways for managing screens in your home, I'd love to hear about them! Send me an email or chime in on one of our social media channels.