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Screen Time Syndrome: Brain Images Explain Why Kids Are Moody, Impulsive & Can't Pay Attention, limiting online time, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, addiction expert, child counselor, educational games, iPad, electronic Lego, Legos, creative play, find rare minerals, Minecraft club, digital game, gaming, behavior, temper tantrums, outbursts, refusing to do chores, tablets, smartphone, shortcut tool, images, spoonfeeding, lazy learning, dumbing down, mental effort, developing brain, low-tech parent, Steve Jobs, Silicon Valley, no-tech Montessoru schools, Waldorf schools, Xboxes, brain imaging research, science, frontal cortex, impulse control, executive functioning, cocaine, dopamine levels, technology, feel-good neurotransmitter, addiction, sex, Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, exposure, sensory overload, lack of sleep, hyper-aroused nervous system, electronic screen syndrome, impulsive, moody, can't pay attention, rewire, train, delayed gratification, bored time, creativity, set limits, monotonous work, early years, work ethic, parenting, Victoria Prooday, strengthen brain, 

Screen time, in its multiple forms, will be part of your children’s lives at some point. But parents must ask themselves how early and to what extent?


Some parents think they’re giving their child an educational edge like Susan who bought her 6-year-old son John an iPad when he was in first grade. “She thought, ‘Why not let him get a jump on things?’ John’s school had begun using the devices with younger and younger grades – and his technology teacher had raved about their educational benefits.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, one of the country’s foremost addiction experts who counseled Susan and her son John, writes, “She started giving John screen time to play different educational games on his iPad. Soon, he discovered Minecraft, which a teacher assured was “just like electronic Lego.” She remembered how much fun she had as a child building Legos. At first, Susan was pleased. John seemed engaged in creative play. She did notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos she remembered – after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to survive and get to the next level with her old game. But the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad could it be?”

“John became more and more focused on his digital game, losing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, Susan tried to take the game away but John threw temper tantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing to herself over and over again that “it’s educational.”

But it’s even worse than we think.


There’s a line; cross it and parents may actually unintentionally be doing significantly more harm than good.

“Tablets are the ultimate shortcut tools: Unlike a mother reading a story to a child, for example, a smartphone-told story spoon-feeds images, words, and pictures all at once to a young reader. Rather than having to take the time to process a mother’s voice into words, visualize complete pictures and exert the mental effort to follow a story line, kids who follow stories on their smartphones get lazy. The device does the thinking for them, and as a result, their own cognitive muscles remain weak.” ~Liraz Margalit Ph.D

Digest the information below on screen time, even though it might feel uncomfortable, and arm yourself with the truth about the potential damage screen time is capable of imparting – particularly in a young, still-developing brain.

“There’s a reason Steve Jobs was a conscientiously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Montessori or Waldorf schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.” (source)


We now know that smartphones, iPads, and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex – which controls executive functioning, including impulse control – in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic – as much as sex.

White matter changes – internet addiction

But what about kids who aren’t “addicted” per se?

Let’s be clear: Even in children with “regular” exposure, we should be aware that screen time is creating subtle damage considering the “average” child clocks in more than seven hours a day (Rideout 2010).

As a doctor, Dunckley observes that many of the children she sees suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what she calls electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention – much like the damage seen in these scans above. (source)


Unfortunately, screen time has replaced the outdoor time and become a kind of babysitter. Children used to play outside, where, in unstructured natural environments, they learned and practiced their social skills.

And like the story of Susan and her son John, we need to get our children back to playing with Legos and toys that don’t think for them.

We can rewire and retrain the brain by being intentional. It’s so much easier to start young.

Victoria Prooday, OT writes:

1. Train delayed gratification.

  • Make them wait! It is ok to have “I am bored“ time – this is the first step to creativity
  • Gradually increase the waiting time between “I want” and “I get”
  • Avoid technology use in cars and restaurants, and instead teach them waiting while talking and playing games

2. Don’t be afraid to set the limits. Kids need limits to grow happy and healthy.

  • Make a schedule for meal times, sleep times, technology time
  • Think of what is GOOD for them, not what they WANT/DON’T WANT. They are going to thank you for that later on in life.
  • Limit constant snacking. Parenting is a hard job.

3. Teach your child to do monotonous work from early years as it is the foundation for future “workability.”

  • Folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table, making lunch, unpacking their lunch box, making their bed (source)

4. Have fun with your children.

  • Read aloud, wrestle with your kids, make a Mexican or Italian meal together, do a family game night or a treasure hunt in the house or yard. Push the table aside and dance with them, laugh about what they did when they were really little, take walks and look at the clouds! (source)

“Kids will change when parents change their perspective on parenting.  Help your children succeed in life by training and strengthening their brain sooner rather than later!”   ~ Victoria Prooday

Remember, parenting is about progress, not about perfection. You are reading about this because you are a parent who wants to do all you can to help and advance your child in the right direction.

You can do it!


Why our children are more entitled than generations before?

Study after study proves what we have guessed…

It’s the scary truth that our children face.   As a teacher and play therapist, I’ve heard from so many parents that their kids are acting entitled and even lonely & sad.

Last week, a friend (and fellow teacher) printed out a section of an article that she had read, looking at the reasons for why kids are bored & easily frustrated, making them less patient– an article written by Victoria Prooday: Occupational Therapist, speaker, blogger & founder a multidisciplinary clinic for children with challenges on her fantastic blog, YourOT.

Victoria writes:  “What good are we doing them by giving them what they WANT when we know that it is not GOOD for them? Without proper nutrition and a good night’s sleep, our kids come to school irritable, anxious, and inattentive.  In addition, we send them the wrong message.   They learn they can do what they want and not do what they don’t want. The concept of “need to do” is absent. Unfortunately, in order to achieve our goals in our lives, we have to do what’s necessary, which may not always be what we want to do. “ – Victoria Prooday. (Just FYI: I’ve talked to Victoria on the phone & she is amazing, to say the least!)

My friend and I started talking about the “me generation” we both agreed that screentime and the thought of “mine, mine, mine” have a lot to do with it.

To top it off, I read this article on about a little boy on his video game, during a family gathering:

“After being on his handheld electronic game for an hour, a perfect storm is brewing. His brain and psyche become overstimulated and excited — on fire! His nervous system shifts into high gear and settles there while he attempts to master different situations, strategizing, surviving, and defending his turf. His heart rate increases and his blood pressure rises — he’s ready to do battle.  The screen virtually locks his eyes into position and sends signal after signal: “It’s bright daylight out, nowhere near time for bed!” – he’s ready to fight or escape!”

The story goes on to say that his little sister came over and put her hand on the game. He hadn’t noticed her walking towards him because he was so involved in the game. Due to his elevated feelings, he screams at her and runs to his room. His mother follows him and tells him to get off of the electronics and get ready for bed, which makes him feel frustrated, as well as physically and emotionally angry.   He was ripped out of his “fun” virtual world and put into a “boring” real world.   Kids just can’t adjust so quickly.

It’s happening all the time, but we can help.

Let them be bored.

“Families [overly] centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives for our kids. Most of us have created child-centered families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention.” ~ American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Boy sitting at the bottom of the stairs using a smartphone.


This is pretty cool:
There’s More to Physical Science Than Sink and Float!
“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”
—Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method
Liquid: Three Complete Activities for Exploring WaterChildren naturally absorb the logic and the beauty of physical science as they interact with the environment: pushing a truck up an incline, observing light reflecting on water, or unconsciously witnessing gravity as the rock falls to the ground.
It’s easy for teachers to offer many hands-on science activities so young children can explore how the world works. Give lessons about phenomena children have already noticed, such as sound, heat, friction, magnetism, or surface tension. Later introduce more abstract concepts: naming, classification, and scientific explanations.
Learn While Teaching
You don’t have to be an expert in physics before introducing these lessons. Start with the basics such as sink and float, or magnetic/non-magnetic exercises. As you progress to more advanced lessons, there’s no need to feel intimidated. You can enjoy learning new concepts, or theories long forgotten, alongside the children.
Although few Montessori teacher-training programs include many physical science lessons, there are excellent resources to help you get started. Nurturing the Young Scientist, written by a primary Montessori teacher, has step-by-step activities that will fascinate three- to six-year-olds. The lessons, which give teachers the correct scientific nomenclature, allow children to explore and make basic observations about forms of matter (solid, liquid, gas), forms of energy (light, heat, sound, chemical, magnetic, electrical, simple machines), and the force of gravity. To save you time, Montessori Services has made up a number of kits to accompany the book. For example, there are four activities in one kit to investigate air, with instructions included.
Gas: Four Complete Activities for Investigating AirMany activities in the book can be done with materials you already have in your classroom. For an experiment to help children observe the nature of air, you need a basin filled with water, a toothpick (or small piece of wood), and a glass.
Float the toothpick on the water.
Put the upside down glass over the toothpick and push down.
Notice what happens.
Lift the glass.
What do you observe? (The air in the glass pushes the toothpick down.)
The Steps of Scientific Inquiry
While younger children will simply want to observe and repeat the activity, five- and six-year-olds enjoy making predictions before doing an experiment and then testing their hypotheses. Nurture the budding scientist by introducing the steps that adult scientists use:
Observe. (“Here is a shallow, clear plastic box with black pepper sprinkled on the bottom and a lid on the top.”)
Discuss. (“I wonder what will happen if I rub the lid of the box with a wool scarf?”)
Make predictions. These can be verbal, written, or a drawn picture. (“I’m guessing that the pepper will…”)
Perform the experiment.
Observe. Are the results the same or different from the prediction? (“Oh! The pepper jumped up and stuck to the lid of the box!”)
Record the results with pictures, words, or both.
Name the phenomenon. (“This is caused by static electricity.”)
Presenting the Activities
With three-and four-year-olds, present the entire lesson in the traditional Montessori manner and then invite them to choose the work. However, for children ages five and up, it’s important not to show the science activity from beginning to end. Whenever possible, just get children started and encourage them to make their own discoveries.
Fascinating activities for the older child include exploring chemistry (baking soda and vinegar), electricity (building a simple circuit to power a light bulb or buzzer), light (building a periscope), and sound (making a tin can telephone).
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong
Recently I was tutoring a six-year-old child who is being homeschooled. He enjoyed math and language, but was most enthusiastic about physical science experiments. We called science “dessert” and often saved it for last, ending our sessions on a fascinating and joyful note. If I was unfamiliar with the experiment, I would try not to look at the explanation, and would make my prediction alongside the child’s. He especially loved it when I wasn’t correct!
Science and Nature
Whenever possible, take children out to explore physical science in nature. Students can watch leaves float down a river to observe water currents, or sail a walnut shell boat in a puddle to observe the effects of air. They may wonder what causes the sound of rain on the tin roof to be so loud or why the black sand is so much hotter than the white sand in the sunshine.
With the right presentation, access to materials, and opportunity to explore, children will naturally, often unconsciously, begin to comprehend the laws of physics and the nature of the universe. Just as importantly, teachers and children alike can use their imaginations and minds to develop a great love for science and the natural world.
“What is a scientist?… We give the name scientist to the type of man who has felt experiment to be a means guiding him to search out the deep truth of life, to lift a veil from its fascinating secrets, and who, in this pursuit, has felt arising within him a love for the mysteries of nature…”
—Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method
—by Irene Baker, MEd, Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She holds both primary (ages 3-6) and elementary (ages 6-12) Montessori certifications and has taught at all three levels. For over 15 years, she has served as a Montessori teacher-trainer for both primary and elementary levels and has presented workshops for teachers at schools and AMS national conferences. Her work with both students and teachers is infused with the knowledge she has gained from her passions: history, social justice, non-violent (compassionate) communication, nature, meditation, music, and poetry.
—Originally Published 2014

The High Energy Child in the Montessori Environment

By Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta

In the Montessori environment, movement is an essential and integral part of learning. The child learns through first-hand experience primarily by doing and secondarily by observing. Every activity in the classroom involves movement and engages as many senses as possible. All the work in the Practical Life area and the Sensorial area involve many trips to retrieve all the parts of a given work and then the steps to clean up at the end. Even in areas that may seem abstract, there is always something to engage the body. Children also work in a variety of places and positions – at a table or on the floor which gives the body opportunities to move from one area to another. There are no assigned desks or places in the classroom.

In the Montessori classroom, the child is groomed to engage in purposeful and controlled movement. There are many breakable objects and this is intentional to give the child feedback about his/her movements.  Children learn to work toward goal oriented activities.  Many high energy children find adequate outlets for their energy in a Montessori classroom and have no issues. However, issues arise when movement is uncontrolled, destructive or disturbing to others. Uncontrolled movements include flopping around, falling down and running indoors. Destructive movements include rough handling of materials, bashing and repeated dropping of materials. It can also include direct harmful movements of hitting, pushing or grabbing others. Disturbing movement can include loud/repetitive noises or touching other’s work. The overarching goal of Montessori education to that each child learns how to conduct him/herself, to pursue his/her own individual work within the structure and responsibility of the group. Each child is expected to respect other’s space, body and work.

Within the classroom itself, there are some specific activities that children can choose to burn off extra energy. They can do “push hands” which involves pushing on the wall. They can jump in a designated area followed by a few deep breathing exercises. There is also an exercise to blow through a straw to move pompoms as well as crawling with a rolling pin along a line. Children can even run laps for a few minutes outside if the above activities are not enough to help them be calm during the morning work time, until it is time to play outside. These activities give the child an opportunity to regain a controlled level of energy whenever the need arises and hopefully by his/her own conscious self-awareness and choice.

Support from home is essential for high energy children. They often need a very high and consistent level of exercise outside of school. Parents of high energy children need to commit to a regular exercise regimen for their child. This could include regular lessons in dance, gymnastics, martial arts and swimming. But there must be a daily routine in place for  enough exercise that involves full body movement and weight bearing activities such as calisthenics. The diet should avoid refined and processed foods including sugar, white flour, artificial colors and junk food. Proper sleep and rest are also essential for high energy children to regulate their energy and mood. Children under the age of 5 need at least 10 – 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Electronic media and television should be very limited and none should occur the last 2 hours before bed. Many high energy children are sensitive to violence in media and should be shielded from it on television and video games.

High energy children need help to develop a vocabulary of emotions and find acceptable ways to express them. For example, parents can read books to children about emotions and how to name them. They can help each child to find an activity that works for them to express that feeling such as dance, art, music, running, hitting or even screaming into a pillow. Each outlet should have an acceptable time and place. High energy children need to know what is acceptable and where and when.

High energy children need firm and consistent boundaries and limits that are clearly set in advance with appropriate and logical consequences. High energy children can be very persistent and so parents may be tempted to give in and not consistently follow through with consequences. It’s important for parents to choose rules and logical consequences very carefully. Rude, destructive or harmful behavior should never be tolerated in the name of “high energy.” Setting healthy boundaries and expectations for a high energy child helps avoid some very anti-social behavior among peers as well as with teachers and other adults.

So with the right support from home and school, high energy children thrive in Montessori environments! Energy is neither good nor bad in itself – it is a force, that when harnessed properly becomes and ally rather than a hindrance. Movement is essential to the development of the child’s brain and to strengthen the neural pathways of learning. If your child is a high energy child then be sure to elicit information and guidance from your child’s Montessori teacher and follow the suggestions given above. Together, you can help your child succeed at home and school.

“The task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.”

“Respect all reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.”

— Maria Montessori


Study: Montessori Education Erases Income Achievement Gap
November 01, 2017
By Jane Kelly

New research from the University of Virginia has found that a Montessori preschool education helps typically under-performing low-income students keep pace with their higher-income peers.

In a study just published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, psychology professor Angeline Lillard and her colleagues studied children who were admitted by lottery to public Montessori schools in Hartford, Connecticut, or were wait-listed and attended public and private schools that did not use Montessori programs.

“We had 71 children in the control group and 70 children in the Montessori group, most of whom were tested at four time periods longitudinally, starting the first semester that they entered the preschool,” Lillard said.

The researchers tested the children in a variety of areas, including reading, math, social cognition, persistence and self-regulation. The testing occurred over a three-year period, from the ages 3 to 6.

Lillard said the results showed all the children scored equally that first fall. As time went on, their scores diverged.

“If you look at what happened with low-income control children in non-Montessori schools, relative to the other children, they start low and get lower, doing worse over time,” she said. “If you look at the low-income Montessori children, they are on the upswing, so that by the fourth evaluation, they are not significantly different from the control high-income sample or the Montessori high-income sample.”

She added that their trajectory was such that had there been a fifth evaluation, the low-income Montessori students would be truly (not just statistically) equal to their high-income counterparts.

The study also found that children in Montessori schools did better overall than children in conventional schools.

The Montessori method of teaching aims to develop both social and academic abilities in children. In Montessori classrooms, children can move around freely and choose from a range of educational activities. Each classroom includes children of a variety of ages and there are no grades or rewards for performance.

Lillard said the new findings are important. “We have persistently failed to figure out a way to help people who are born into poverty more reliably get out of that situation. Education is widely heralded as the best possible way, and yet our conventional school systems don’t seem to be a lot of help,” she said.

“You see the cycle of poverty over and over again,” Lillard added. “People who are born into it, stay in it; if we could find a different way to school children that could make a difference, we might be able to make some headway on this age-old problem.”

She suggested that the reasons the Montessori system has these effects are complex, but likely stem from it corresponding to the ways people naturally learn and develop. Conventional schooling is a fairly recent invention, whereas “informal” learning has always existed in every society. Higher-income children are enculturated into the mores of conventional schooling at home (although even they do somewhat better in Montessori), but lower-income children get left behind in most schools, she said.