Balancing Screen Time for Kids: Combining Digital and Traditional Learning

Screens are here, there and everywhere nowadays. It means that - if we’re not careful - it's easy to let screens do the heavy lifting in our kids' education.


But remember the charm of flipping through a picture book or the fun of a hands-on science experiment? Yeah, we do too.


Which raises the question: how do we strike the perfect balance between the digital and the tangible in education?


Old-School Print Wins for Young Readers


You’re cozied up with your kid, a print book in hand, exploring a story together. It’s the perfect little family scene and, as it turns out, this simple activity is also fantastic for their development.


A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) proves this. Researchers found that toddlers engage more, respond better, and even keep their cool during emotional outbursts when they’re read to from print books versus e-books. There’s more chatting, more bonding, and who doesn’t love the feel of real pages?


The Double-Edged Sword of Digital


Okay, we can’t just toss our tablets and laptops in the trash, right? They’re a permanent part of our lives.


But when it comes to our little ones, these gadgets should come with a warning. For all their bright screens and flashy animations, they can’t replace the warmth of reading a bedtime story or the satisfaction of solving a puzzle on paper.


As the AAP study showed, too much screen time isn’t good for kids. It’s all about using technology wisely, if we use it at all.


How to Balance Screen Time for Kids


If we want to use technology - and it’s fine if we do! - then here are some top tips for balancing screen time with more traditional learning.


    • Set the scene, consistently: Have specific times for online learning and good old book reading. Structure is key.


    • Quality matters: Choose digital content that’s more educational than entertaining. No sneaky ads or distracting pop-ups, thank you very much!


    • Read together: Dedicate time to read physical books together. Ask questions, discuss the story – make it interactive.


    • The digital sidekick: Use tech to complement the books, not replace them. Digital tools are a great way to bring information to life - you might have just been reading about volcanoes, then used YouTube to help better visualise what your child has learned in their book.


    • The Captain Mail Effect: Captain Mail - and other tangible subscriptions for kids - are a great way to keep screens away during moments where fun-filled education is the main aim. Complete activities together and it’s an opportunity for bonding as well as learning.


What The Experts Say


We’ll admit it, we’re a bit biased. At Captain Mail - where we send weekly themed envelopes through the mail to children across the US and beyond - we strongly believe in the importance of traditional learning, and only using digital tools when they’re really needed.


But well-sourced information is just as important, so what are the experts saying? Here are a few individuals and organizations we’d recommend.


Dr. Jenny Radesky, Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician - Known for her research on children's use of mobile technology, Dr. Radesky suggests setting ‘media-free’ times and zones in the house so that kids are encouraged to play and learn in a variety of ways.


Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, Founder of Children and Screens - Dr. Hurst-Della Pietra advises parents to be ‘active mediators’ when tracking their child’s screen time. She recommends ‘co-viewing’, and discussing digital content with kids to improve their understanding and encourage critical thinking.


Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Pediatrician and Researcher - Dr. Christakis supports balanced media use, and highlights the importance of choosing age-appropriate and educational digital content. He also speaks about the need for interactive screen time, where children are doing learning activities rather than just consuming content passively.


Common Sense Media - This organization provides resources for parents to see, at a glance, the quality of digital content. Their advice includes choosing apps and digital games that are interactive, educational, and free of distractions, aligning with the same principles as traditional learning tools (and Captain Mail!).


American Academy of Pediatrics - The AAP recommends setting consistent limits on the amount of time children spend on screens per day. However, they acknowledge that these limits will be different based on a child's age, individual needs, and family dynamics. They also advocate for media literacy education, teaching children to think critically about digital content.


Helping kids navigate the digital and analog worlds doesn’t have to be a stressful or overwhelming task. With a bit of planning and a lot of involvement, we can give our kids the best of both worlds.


Let’s use our screens smartly and keep (print) books in the mix. After all, raising well-rounded, inquisitive kids is all about variety, and at Captain Mail, we’re all for it.