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Technology for Kids… And Babies?

16 Mar

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of Jeana Lee Tahnk’s Screen Play blog.   She recently posted a roundup of sites designed specifically for babies.  As a somewhat tech-cautious parent, I didn’t know how quickly I’d embrace sites designed specifically for babies, especially the BabyFirstTV site, which touts itself as “The First Site for Little Ones”. I decided to check BabyFirstTV out for myself.

This comprehensive site  is geared towards babies 18 months and older, offering both free and subscription-only games and lessons that introduce numbers, art, music, and language.  While some of the navigation was awkward, the content was age-appropriate and mostly educational, and there were no ads.  What I especially like is that the programming seems to have been developed with the support of an advisory board of credible experts.  (This info was hidden in the FAQ links, so I’m not sure how active this advisory board is… But it’s nice to see there’s some content oversight.)  The site also has a place for parents with questions, and offers videos in other languages for parents wanting to expose their kids to French or Spanish.

I’m happily surprised to say I’d be okay with my child interacting with this site occasionally.  My only concern is that it’s very easy for kids to “shop” online, and with a single click, they’re able to add a costly gift set to their parents’ shopping cart.   (Not sure how easy it is to actually “purchase,” but it’s a little worrisome.)  Other than that, this site seems like a fun, interactive way to engage babies at an early age.

What do you think?  How early should babies be interacting with technology?  Are sites like these of interest to you?  Or should parents wait until children are older to introduce their babies to websites?

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“Parenting with Technology” Author Diane Kendall Chats with Techno(t)parent…

4 Mar

I’m amazed at the in-depth knowledge out there regarding technology and parenting, given the subject matter is relatively new.  One great fountain of information I discovered is educator and tech reviewer Diane Kendall, who has spent over 30 years following the tech scene for both kids and parents.  An author and blogger, (and mind-blowingly-early-adpoter!) Ms. Kendall generously shared some thoughts with Techno(t)parent in a three-part series.  Read on for Part 1, my friends:

TNP: How important is it for parents to be digitally-savvy today?

DK: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being aware and open-minded about technology as the advances and changes in technology come faster and faster and transform the world as we know it. Parents owe that to their kids who are going to live in this new world.  That said, that doesn’t mean you have to be up on all the latest gadgets and trends.  No one is, not even those who have the audacity to declare themselves “experts.”   It also doesn’t mean you have to spend all your money or time on technology. It doesn’t even mean you have to agree with how technology is changing the way things are done.

“Instead, the most important thing you can do is to keep your eyes, ears, and mind open to the technology that can help you be a better parent, be more efficient so you can have more time with your family, as well as be open to the technology tools that can help your kids on their journey to becoming independent learners.  You should invest your time and money  into this “personal” technology, and just keep an open eye to the pros and cons of the rest.”

If you take this attitude early on in your parenthood adventure, then you and your kids will be able to talk more openly about what technology works for you and for them, what you both find a waste of time and even what you find distasteful, not very savory or even bad digital manners. Getting the discussion started early, and not buying into the fallacy that your kids are going to be “better at technology” than you just because they are kids, is really what being a digitally-savvy parent is all about.

TNP:  Where or how should a “late-adopter” parent start?  How can parents with not a lot of time get up-to-speed quickly?

DK: Most of us are more tech savvy then we give ourselves credit for. If you want to learn about technology, pick a small project you know technology will absolutely help you do, and learn how to do it. One of my favorite projects for “late adopters” is compiling a photo book for their kids.  The subject could be a day in your family’s life, all the people who are important in a child’s life, a recent trip or the family pet. There are many photo services online who make it a cheap and easy process, and older kids can help take the pictures if you want to make it a parent/child project.

Take on a tech project that can be done in a short amount of time to get your confidence up. It also doesn’t hurt to find someone who has done a similar project and ask them to help you get started.

As a “late-adopter” it is important to stay positive about technology (which I admit when the technology isn’t working can be hard) and to break down what you want to learn into small digestible chucks. There are lots of free tutorials, demos and how-tos online these days. Look around for those and try a few things you’ve always wanted to experiment with.

To Read… Or Not to Read?

15 Feb

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a fellow mom. She shared the fact that her three-and-a-half year old son knows how to play Nintendo DS and get to the first level of Mario Bros., and how he’s figured out how to get to the “Angry Birds” app on her iPhone… But he only knows the letters “A”, “M” and “S” and doesn’t recognize numbers yet. She confessed this somewhat apologetically… As if she should be working harder to get him up-to-speed with letters and numbers and should be dissuading him from using technology until he’s mastered the traditional building blocks of learning.

This got me thinking about the “tech” language our kids are learning today…A language that’s far different from the complicated – and somewhat limiting – language of letters and numbers we learned at the same age. In fact, this “tech” language appears to be more accessible, more intuitive and more universal than our traditional letters and numbers, with its use of icons, graphics, symbols and colors to substitute for thoughts and expressions and instructions.

Our conversation led me to the following question: Is it important to expose kids equally to both traditional language and “tech” language at an early age, so that their brains are “wired” and prepared to engage in both traditional AND tech “conversations” and behavior?

Or, as my friend worried, should we focus more on exposing our kids to the traditional building blocks (letters, words, stories and numbers) that help build the basic reading, writing and math skills that seem to be slowly disappearing in our culture.

What do you think?