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Is Technology Making Our Kids Depressed?

In an age of constant emails, text messages and tweets, it’s not uncommon to hear adults complain of information overload. An emerging body of evidence suggests screen time is leading to digital depression in not only adults, but children as well. A study by the Journal of Pediatrics in April links poor motor skills—a side effect of screen time—to depression in children.

The average preschool-aged child spends almost four hours daily of in front of the television or computer. Studies have found this puts children at increased risk for attention problems later on, and in some cases signs of clinical depression emerge in kids as young as three.

Could the solution be a back-to-basics approach to play? Many experts think so. By swapping the Blackberry for blocks and balls, kids engage a host of multi-sensory skills that isn’t possible with two dimensional apps.

In New York City, a number of private schools in Manhattan are bringing blocks back into the classroom and deemphasizing worksheets, according to Emily Glickman, of NYC's longest practicing educational consultants and president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting.

“Physically, block play develops eye-hand coordination and large and fine motor skills, as well as an appreciation and understanding for design and balance. Block play involves the child as a whole because it is a movement-oriented, sensory-friendly and intellectually-active creative learning tool that helps children develop vocabulary, math and science skills,” says Vivian Kirkfield, educator and author of the book, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking.

Dr. Klaus Libertus, a researcher at Kennedy Krieger Institute published results demonstrating for the first time that infants at risk for autism or abnormal social development could benefit from motor training using Velcro building blocks with Velcro mittens as early as 3-months. Infants using these "sticky mittens" showed increased interest in faces following a two week training period, suggesting advanced social development.

Toy companies at the forefront of this research are integrating these concepts into their product designs. Tegu, which makes eco-friendly magnetic wooden blocks, has set up labs in Montessori and kindergarten classrooms across the country to observe how children play. “We observe greater interest and attention span when children play with magnetic blocks compared to traditional blocks,” says Tegu product developer Alex Ko. “The embedded magnets enable children to build taller, more advanced structures, while their polarity demands critical thinking and problems-solving. Children achieve mastery more quickly, reinforcing the behavior.”

While iPhones and other fun gadgets are great for distracting children in a pinch, the evidence is mounting that for children’s health and well-being, it’s far better to go battery-free and back to basics.

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