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Positive ways for your child to use their screen time

Instead of worrying about the amount of time their children spend on devices, perhaps parents could rest easy if they knew their kids were using their screen time to learn and create. By Gary Crossing.

‘OK, you can have one more hour on your iPad, while I get your dinner ready.'

Oh, the guilt that comes with this sentence as you half-heartedly poke sausages round a frying pan.

How much screen time is too much for your child? It’s a true modern day parenting dilemma. Right up there with ‘Shouldn’t I be giving them a salad instead of bangers and mash?’ As parents, we are bombarded with warnings about the risks our children confront every time they sit in front of a screen. Yet at the same time, we know that it’s important to keep up to date with technology so that our kids can create, learn and make friends through it. So, how do you balance the risks of using digital media with the opportunities it affords?

A recent study by the LSE suggested that, rather than worrying about the amount of screen time their children have, parents should focus on the context in which they are using digital media (Where, how and why) the content they are watching, playing or reading and who they are connecting with.

With that in mind we’ve been looking at apps and games that encourage the positive use of screen time, so parents don’t feel so bad next time they have a sneaky cuppa and a read of the paper while their little loved ones are happily entertained by one device or another.

First up is Animal Jam, an app we reviewed recently and awarded a whopping four stars to. Created in association with the National Geographic it encourages players to learn more about animals and the great outdoors.

As they wander around the fun and colourful virtual world of Jamaa, with its different regions and ecosystems, children can’t help but learn from countless pop-up facts such as ‘honey bees can smell their hive up to five miles away’. There are also educational videos peppered around the site, presented by Animal Jam’s resident scientists - herpetologist, Dr. Brady Barr and marine biologist, Dr. Tierney Thys.

You customize your fluffy animal avatar and can buy clothes and other items for it, and furniture for your den, go to parties and keep up to date with the latest news in the Jamaaa Journal. Free to play but with added perks for paid membership, Animal Jam is aimed at 7-12 year olds. 

For the amateur animator in your life, the LEGO® Movie Maker app is the perfect introduction to the world of stop-motion story telling. Using simple tools you are able to shoot, edit and score your movie with music. You can even create and customise a title card for your latest blockbuster. The best part is that parents and children can do this together. Free to download on iOS 6.1 or later, with no in-app purchases this is rated 4+.

Garage Band is the ideal app for all budding James Bays and Beyoncés out there. The app turns your device into a collection of touch-to-play instruments and a fully equipped recording studio. You can even plug your guitar into your iPad or iPhone and play. Make sure your kids sign a contract promising to buy you a nice big house in the country once their royalty checks start coming in.

Garage Band comes free with iMacs and laptops. Alternatively it is £3.99 to download on iOS 10 or later, with no in-app purchases and rated 4+. Another alternative is Music Maker Jam which comes free with Windows with a PEGI 3 rating.

There are so many art and photography apps out there that it’s difficult to recommend just one. Drawing Desk is great and caters for every age group with its four modes: Kids Desk; Doodle Desk; Sketch Desk and Photo Desk. Rated 4+ it is free to download on iOS 8.0 or later with in-app purchases.

Tayasui Sketches says it is the 'most realistic, versatile and user-friendly sketching app designed for a mobile device'. And it’s certainly very impressive. Rated PEGi 3 it’s free to download on iOS and Android with in-app purchases. It’s also worth mentioning the Little Photo app, which is free to download on Android and comes with more than 70 effects and tools. PEGI 3 rated.

Finally, it may be an old favourite but Minecraft offers a virtual land where users can create their own worlds and experiences, using building blocks, resources discovered on the site and their own creativity.

Often compared to virtual Lego and apparently hugely popular with architects, Minecraft’s focus on creatively building and exploring could help children build their problem solving, planning and organisation skills. Available for PC, Mac, Play Station, Xbox and others. The Minecraft Pocket Edition is £4.99 to download on iOS 8.0 or later with in-app purchases. It is rated 9+. At the other end of the scale, the PC and Mac version costs £17.95.

And if you're not sure you want to spend that kind of money you can download the demo version for PC, MAC, and consoles here.

Well, there you have it. The words ‘screen time’ don’t have to strike fear into the hearts of parents. There are apps out there that can educate and inspire.

Remember though, to make sure you set up the appropriate controls and filters before your child starts playing to help keep them safe. Find out how to here.