They offer lots of fast moving action and music that keep the kids entertained, but there is growing concern that early exposure to digital media on screens is hazardous to children’s health.
The National Institute of Health found that kids who are exposed for more than two hours to screens scored lower on thinking and language tests, and that fast-paced TV shows have been shown to impair executive function in young children after as little as nine minutes of viewing.
The most recent research published in JAMA Pediatrics finds that too much screen time is changing little brains, and not for the better. Kids who reported more screen time showed lower levels of development in the white matter of the brain where language, literacy and cognitive skills develop.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screens before age two and a maximum of one hour a day for 2-to-5 year-olds. Minnesota psychotherapist and early childhood advocate, Lisa Venable, who goes by “Grammy Lisa,” says the key problem with screens is that they take away from live interaction and creative play, which are crucial for early child development.
“Young children who spend a lot time on screens aren’t using their imaginations or exploring their environments. And, they are learning to use screens as a distraction or way to self-soothe,” she says, “something that later on often leads to addiction and an inability to deal with emotions in a healthy way. Because almost 90 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first five years, we must ensure they are having appropriate developmental experiences,” she says.
An Audio-Story Program Comes to Life
Venable is hoping to be part of a solution to what she sees as an entire generation at risk for healthy brain development through The Magical Adventures of Mr. Green Pony! audio story series, which is launching at the Hopkins Center for the Arts (1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins, MN 55343) on Sun., Dec. 8 between 1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. For more details about this free event and to register, please visit www.mrgreenpony.com
Venable became inspired to develop an alternative to screens while babysitting her three-year- old granddaughter. “The child was having a meltdown and, while tempted to put on a movie, I instead made up a story about a green pony that lived on her hobby farm. She was mesmerized and started playing along, becoming captivated with the images in her mind. She even made up her own stories!”
Over the following year, Venable, with the help of her granddaughter, Madelyn, created a cast of magical friends on fun adventures. Venable wrote ten stories and recorded them with homemade sound effects, unique voices, and a catchy song at the end. “Children are attracted to their parents’ phones and i-Pads, so I thought why not hand them a device with nothing on the screen that will still keep them entertained. Lively, stories with fun sound effects give little ones the opportunity to enjoy screen-free, active learning,” says Venable. “Listening to a story without pictures encourages imagination and still gives parents a break!”
Art Rolnick, former Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has conducted research on the importance of investing in high quality early childhood programs, and says that passive screen-time also takes away from live experience. “Storytelling, reading and playing with a child are far more impactful on a child’s growing brain than online learning programs or entertaining YouTube videos. I am inspired by Lisa’s program to both ignite a child’s imagination and promote adult-child interaction.”
The Mr. Green Pony website, www.MrGreenPony.com, currently offers all the stories as well as early learning activities. The educational activities give adults tools for interaction after the story that help children retain what they heard, and include a memory game, coloring pages and nature activities. The original series will be released December 8 just in time for the holiday season and
will be available on CD or digital download for about $4 each (1 story with accompanying educational activities).Venable also plans to offer a special membership option that includes all stories/activities, four bonus stories a year and parenting tips.
Venable says Fred Rogers, who invited millions of children to be his neighbors as host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on PBS for more than 30 years, mirrors her inspiration for the storylines.
She recently saw the documentary about his life and realized the messages of Mr. Green Pony were quite similar.
“Like Mr. Rogers, Mr. Green Pony shows children how to be kind, gives them positive messages and helps them be brave. I am delighted to help carry on Mr. Rogers’ message,” says Venable, who prides herself on the fact that the Mr. Green Pony stories and activities are quality early learning products.
Venable says many of her themes help children deal with their emotions while also exploring the magic of nature. “Nature provides children with live, tactile experiences that screens cannot,” Venable says. “Nature teaches children about resiliency, connection and adventure!”
Kelsey Ludwigson of Waconia, Minn., says her two older children, who are 4 and 5, have really connected with the Mr. Green Pony stories, and learned from them too. “The stories have a lot of value to them. Each teaches a little life lesson,” she says.
“Not long after hearing the story about one of the characters dropping her blueberries, my kids had an incident and my youngest said, ‘It’s okay to be angry and, it’s okay to move on.’ I asked where that came from and she told me she heard it in the Mr. Green Pony story. It was cool to see her bring that story to real life and take the value away from it.”
Through a felt board format, Venable also offers group story-telling at pre-schools, birthday parties and nature centers to help children use their listening skills as well as interact with the story-line. And, she offers workshops to parents and teachers about screen-time and its effects on early childhood development.
For more information, go to MrGreenPony.com.
ABOUT LISA VENABLE
Lisa Venable, who is also known as "Grammy Lisa," has been teaching, counseling and writing for over 25 years. She is an author, psychotherapist and early childhood advocate, holding a master’s degree in Counseling Psychotherapy and a bachelor’s in Child Development. Lisa served as an Early Childhood Consultant to the MN Legislature and teaches at the Adler Graduate School of Counseling.
Lisa lives in Minnetonka, Minn., not too far from her two grandchildren, Madelyn and Victor, who she gets to see fairly often.
# # #
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story and the accompanying photography are available for your use copyright free and cost-free. If you prefer to arrange an interview of your own with Grammy Lisa, contact Rachel M. Anderson, Publicist, at 952-240-2513.
# # #