Through the looking screen

·4 min read

Excessive screen-time was once the common enemy in the Milne-Karn, Parenteau and Blum-Payne households.

But the COVID-19 pandemic and related stay-at-home orders have given each family pause when considering each of their children’s relationships with computers.

Students are now learning how to use video-conferencing platforms, including Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams to participate in lessons and discussions online. Homework is being posted in virtual-classroom portals, such as Edsby and Seesaw. Even after-school playdates have moved into a virtual sphere, as kids connect online to play Roblox, Among Us and other games.

Krystal Payne says her daughter’s online activities have been taking up much of the family’s internet bandwidth, but as maddening as it may be, she has learned to be forgiving about it.

“It just feels so wild right now. It really doesn’t feel like these are OK or stable times, and it’s really hard to know how to parent,” Payne says, adding that virtual interaction is the only way the remote learner can socialize with kids her own age right now.

The increase in screen time and decrease in outside activity is having an impact on fitness levels for kids, teenagers and adults.

During the first lockdown last spring, ParticipACTION, a Canadian non-profit that promotes healthy living, surveyed nearly 1,500 parents about physical activity levels during the initial COVID-19 wave.

The study found five per cent of children and only 0.8 per cent of teenagers were meeting national guidelines for physical activity (an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per day), sleep and sedentary time. Pre-pandemic, 15 per cent of students combined were meeting the recommended thresholds.

In order to improve those figures, the organization recommends parents be active role models, set limits on screen use and encourage outdoor time.

The wind chill complicates matters in Winnipeg, but the three families are layering up to take advantage of the frozen Assiniboine River.

Skating and fishing are on the Parenteau winter activity list.

Mother Anna Parenteau says she can tell her youngest misses hockey. Carter Parenteau, 9, is one of thousands of Winnipeg kids forced to sit out the season instead of playing in leagues. He is, however, getting a thrill out of cheering on NHL defenceman Zach Whitecloud of the Vegas Golden Knights, who is from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and one of his icons.

Emby Blum-Payne, 8, and her dad, Andy Blum recently did some father-daughter bonding in their front yard by building a quinzhee.

The Milne-Karn family plans to cross-country ski their way through the winter.

“We all feel like we’re in a holding pattern now,” says mother Luanne Karn about halfway through the academic year.

Amid constant pandemic pivots, the families are finding normalcy in Winnipeg winter and their kids’ academic progress.

Carter’s new-found love for reading and declaration that the Harry Potter books are better than the movies based on the series have excited his parents. The Isaac Brock School fourth-grader is determined to finish Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban so he can watch the next movie, his mother says.

Grade 3 student Anna Milne-Karn is also reading the fantastical series with her mothers. The Ecole Laura Secord student is proud to share that she has progressed from reading at a Grade 2 level to a Grade 4 level this year.

Emby Blum-Payne, who hopes to return to Ecole Sacre-Coeur for the fourth grade next year, just finished adventure novel My Side of the Mountain.

“I’m really impressed by her ability to comprehend and think critically about the novels that we’ve been reading,” Emby’s mother says.

Early assessment data from school divisions in Manitoba suggest COVID-19 learning disruptions have affected literacy levels most significantly among third-grade and younger students, given many of them are not yet independent readers.

As evidenced by their lengthy reading lists, learning loss isn’t much of a concern for these three Winnipeg families. They remain more focused on how to regulate screen time.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press