We don’t follow the general guidelines for how much screen time Lady Bug “should” have because repetitive audio/visual is the best way for her to learn something right now. Especially if they involve a song. The bulk of her vocabulary comes from Signing Time dvds. She doesn’t actually do very many signs, but she loves the dependable repetition of the word and seeing examples of the word on the screen better than real life people saying the same word but saying it not identically each time. Lady Bug goes through phases of wanting all of one type of show, whether it’s Signing Time, Leap Frog videos, Little Einsteins, or more recently Super Why on Netflix. For the past two years I have been using her interest and engagement with her shows to build vocabulary and to engage her off of the screens using laminated screenshots. (Here’s a link that explains how to make screenshots.)
For one example, I took an episode of Little Einsteins and played it on the computer screen. I paused it at various spots, took a screenshot, pasted it into Paint (sorry iPeople, I don’t know how you would do it) and cropped out everything that wasn’t the screen. I saved it as a jpeg and moved on to capturing the next one. On one episode I ended up with 24 screen shots that I then printed 4 to a page and then laminated. (All my homeschool friends swear by this laminator.) I cut out the cards and we have used them for a variety of things. Lady Bug surprised me by being able to tell the difference between the four pictures of the speed up sequence of adagio, moderato, allegro, and presto, and named them correctly every time. She also would often pick up one of the cards and start scripting the lines that went along with that particular scene. On the picture of the art she says “Egyptian architecture by ancient Egyptians!” and with the card with the picture of the musician she says “Aida, by Giuseppe Verdi!” They are one of her favorite things to visually stim with when we’re away from home.
Another example is the screenshots of Signing Time that I have used to label her closet shelves and other things around the house. I keep meaning to turn them into a changeable visual schedule, but I haven’t taken the time to do that yet. I also previously mentioned using screenshots as vocabulary building cards when Lady Bug was really into space.
One last example is what you see in the picture at the top of the page. Lady Bug was on day 3 when I made this of wanting nothing but Leap Frog’s Numbers Ahoy. In the story there are friendly sharks whose teeth keep falling out because all they have to eat is rocks. Each shark has 10 teeth and the main characters help put their teeth back in and then count 10 to make sure they’re all in. I looked at the screen and saw the potential for a 10 Frame type set up. So I screenshotted the open mouth and then used Paint to “erase” the teeth using the eyedropper to match the background mouth color. I then printed out a copy of the edited and non-edited picture (make sure you save the original as a separate thing!) I cut out the teeth from the original and laminated the teeth and the edited picture separately. I cut out the laminated teeth and used Velcro dots cut in half and “dyed” with marker on the soft half to make the teeth able to go on and off as needed. I colored the Velcro so that the originally white didn’t cause visual confusion. So far Lady Bug just likes to pull the teeth off and try to put them in her own mouth, but it’s durable and will still be around when she’s ready to do counting and math with it.
Screens don’t have to be this horrible thing that adds to parent guilt. For some kids, screens can be really beneficial. And with some time and effort on the parent’s part, they can be used to expand beyond the screen and give you a way to connect with and gain the attention of your child. It takes time; the shark mouth took almost an hour with all the kid interruptions and trying to make it look good in Paint. But it’s totally worth it.