The Clever Way to Limit Toddler Screen Time (and Help Them Sleep)

4-year-old playing with screen free audio device Yoto

You let your kids have how much screen time? Parenting guilt is real, folks. Kids need a break. Parents need a break. There’s a lot of unnecessary parent shaming out there. As with most things in life, screen time is okay in moderation. But what do you do when you’re spending more time at home with your toddler and screen time starts to take over? There are many strategies out there and we’ve tried most of them. One screen-free activity really stood out among the crowd. It can help limit toddler screen time – with the added benefit of helping your toddler sleep at night.

Is screen time bad for toddlers?

If you’re looking at limiting screen time for your toddler, let’s first get a baseline of how much screen time is recommended. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children older than 2 years should be limited to 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Avoid screen time during meals and 1 hour before bedtime. Many of us parents are guilty of scrolling our phones before bed, so it may seem hypocritical. But you’ll very likely see improvements in sleep if you remove the blue light before bed.

The AAP also recommends parents interact with kids while screens are being used, as that’s how toddlers learn best.

toddler screen time ipad

What can your toddler do instead of screen time?

Step 1: don’t panic and throw the ipad away. The key is not avoiding, but rather, limiting screen time to less than an hour per day for toddlers. A lot of the advice out there suggests redirection to other activities like books or board games to limit toddler screen time. Perfectly good advice and this has been mildly effective in our own experience. But what if you were to find an alternative that aligns with why toddlers like screens in the first place.

Why do kids like screens?

To decide on a good substitute, it’s important to understand why kids like ipads and other tablets in the first place. Screens have flashy colors and noise (things kids are drawn to). Screens can often be interacted with. And at this age, kids are all about experimenting with what they can do. This explains why your kids can be captivated for hours. But there’s another aspect of toddler screen use. Storytelling.

toddlers watching ipads during their screen time

Toddler aged kids love hearing stories. Imaginative play begins between 18-24 months and only grows from there. Kids at this age love make-believe scenarios because it’s a new developmental skill for them. They are starting to play independently. And storytelling is part of that. It’s the reason why your toddler can be entertained by a tablet without even looking at it. Toddlers love to use their growing imaginations to guess what comes next in the story.

To limit toddler screen time, replace it with something similar – just without the screen.

Related: How to organize a playroom as a non-organized person

A screen free storyteller designed for kids

After doing a ton of research and trying multiple brands, I have to say – the Yoto Player is the real deal when it comes to screen free audio devices. We’ll get in to some of the features, but first, what is Yoto and why is a good substitute for toddler screen time?

screen free audio device toddler screen alternative

What is the Yoto Player?

Yoto Player is a screen-free audio device for kids. It’s a smart speaker – and then some. Yoto comes with a bluetooth speaker cube and a starter pack of story cards. Insert the story cards into the Yoto device and your toddler will be instantly treated to stories and songs. The cards are easy to use (our 2-year-old and 4-year-old can both pop them into the device just fine). And the card content is high-quality.

Why is Yoto a good substitute for screen time?

With Yoto, you’ll get the storytelling without the actual screen. Kids have the freedom to choose their story. They pick a card, insert it in the player, and it automatically starts playing. It’s very easy for toddlers to control. And it’s a great way to provide an experience similar to a tablet – when you’ve maxed out your screen time. With screen-free audio players like Yoto, kids get the sound, the stories, the interaction, and the imagination.

ways to limit toddler screen time Yoto player

The cool thing about Yoto is that it does have a visual display. It will display a clock when no card is inserted. The clock will show daytime vs. nighttime (more later on how this can help with toddler sleep). And when there is a card playing, Yoto will display a picture. So your toddler can get the visual aspect they enjoy from screens, without all the blue light.

What are the features of the Yoto Player?

The Yoto Player uses content cards that your toddler can collect and listen to over and over again. Some examples of card content: Winnie the Pooh, Zog, The Gruffalo, Sleepy Tales, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Cinderella to name a few. I mean there’s really so many, but you can check the full list over on the Yoto website.

Yoto Player Audio Device for toddlers

One note – Yoto is based in the UK, so if you’re from the U.S., check out the Yoto U.S.

And for all the techies out there, here are some of the other features for the Yoto Player:

  • Large knobs (easy for toddlers to interact with) to skip forward/backward as well as change the volume
  • Input for headphones
  • Portable with a rechargeable battery
  • No wifi needed
  • Parental controls from an app
  • New, free content daily from the Yoto podcast and radio
  • Portable – so you can take it on-the-go

How storytelling can help toddler sleep

Two birds, one stone, as they say. Story readers not only help with limiting toddler screen time, but they can actually help at bedtime, too. The AAP encourages parents to limit screen time 1 hour before bed for toddlers. The blue light can interfere with sleep (for both kids and adults). By moving kids away from screens and toward a screen free device like Yoto, it can help relax their little brains before bedtime.

4-year-old listening to Yoto screen free audio device before bedtime

The typical routine we follow in our house is:

  • Mom/dad reads stories
  • Lights out
  • Kids listen to Yoto as they drift off to sleep

It’s important not to use Yoto as a complete replacement for parent reading time. This is one of the biggest benefits that books have on kids. They love the one-on-one time. Instead – read a book together before lights out and then let your toddler listen to their story reader after you’ve left. Or listen to the story reader together.

How Yoto can help keep toddlers in bed?

I can’t begin to describe the struggles of keeping a toddler in bed. There’s the water. And the bathroom trips. I’m too hot. I’m too cold. I drank all my water. We tried everything. And maybe you struggle with this, too. We had some success with a sleep training clock – which the Yoto player took to a new level.

limiting toddler screen time help sleep

When you set up your Yoto Player, there’s an option to set sleep and wake times. If for instance you choose a bedtime of 7:30 PM, Yoto will switch to a moon picture as a signal to your child that it’s time for bed. And if you set a wake time of 7 AM, Yoto will switch over to a sun image at that time. You then teach (or sleep train) your toddler that when the moon picture shows, it’s still sleep time. But when they see a sun picture, they can get up.

In addition to the sun/moon pictures, Yoto also serves as a nightlight, which is helpful for nighttime anxiety. You can set different colors for day vs. night, which may be easier for teaching sleep training. If your child sees purple, it’s still nighttime. But if they see yellow, they can get up.

Of all the things we tried (and there were a lot of them), sleep training clocks proved the most effective.

How you can be a storyteller

Adults aren’t the only ones with thoughts running through their minds at bedtime. By letting your kiddo listen to a story while going to sleep (or using it as a sound machine), they can wind down. Take this a step further.

Yoto comes with a blank content card. It’s essentially space for you to create your own stories. Parents can record their own voices telling a story or singing a song (if you’re brave) and kids can play it after parents have left the room. It’s added comfort for toddlers who may be afraid to be alone in their room.

toddler playing with Yoto player ipad alternative

If you’re struggling to find screen free activities…

Give Yoto a try. We’ve had success limiting toddler screen time with it (along with a lot of other parents). It has great benefits for toddlers without the overwhelm. Our toddlers love that they can operate it on their own. It’s more engaging and imaginative than a lot of the other toys out there. And when you’ve tried everything else, this one may be a game changer for you.

What strategies have you tried to limit toddler screen time?

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