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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?


Interview with “Parenting With Technology” Author Diane Kendall (Part III)

11 Mar

This is part 3 of my interview with parenting with technology expert Diane Kendall.  (Here’s the first post in the series.  Here’s the second post of three.)   THANK YOU Diane, for taking the time to share your wisdom!  For more of Ms. Kendall’s  spot-on advice and information, visit the Parents section of the “Power to Learn” site.

TNP:  What are the biggest drawbacks/dangers of technology for kids?  How can parents keep their kids safe?

DK: “Oversharing” is probably the biggest danger when it comes technology and kids. Most kids are willing to talk to anyone – online or off – that seems willing to listen, and without even meaning to, they can give away personal information that can lead to issues for themselves and their family. These issues can range from identity theft to being open to online predators to cyberbullying. It’s hard to learn what to share and what to keep to yourself and adults, as well as kids, need constant reminding to be careful.

“Oversharing” can create other issues as well. There has been research about how teens and adults view other people’s Facebook pages – often people they don’t know well – and become depressed because everyone seems to have “better” lives than they do.  And why not?  Most people don’t put out the bad things in their lives on their Facebook pages. Most Facebook pages are littered with positive and good things.

“All of this leads to how I think parents can keep their kids safe. KEEP TALKING  TO THEM, but most of all model good digital manners, safety and restraint. Talk to them about what people put on their Facebook pages and how it only reflects the things they want other people to know about them. Remind them if they start talking to someone online, or on a game, that seems incredibly sympathetic, perhaps that person may be too good to be true. Practice digital restraint – in other words, don’t always pull out your smart phone whenever you have a free moment.  The truth is that if you are seduced by the technology, your kids will be too. Just like everything in life, it’s all about balance and restraint.”

TNP:  Any other advice you’d like to share?

DK: I want to offer some hope. When it comes to technology, all I can tell you is that it’s about balance. I’ve been reviewing technology for children since 1979 and my two kids were exposed to it constantly growing up in the late 1990s through now. We had every new game, gadget and piece of software available at our house because I was a reviewer. Yet I still read to them every night, we did lots of art projects, they both played sports and musical instruments, my daughter was a volunteer at the local zoo in high school, and we managed to have a few serious conversations every once in a while.

Today my oldest is in a PhD program at an Ivy League university and my son is away at a respected college, playing soccer, and doing quite well despite being severely dyslexic.

“Trust your instincts, remember to model good technology habits and don’t forget to keep everything in moderation.”

Believe me – you can let technology be part of your children’s lives without being overwhelmed by it.

Interview with “Parenting With Technology” Author Diane Kendall (Part II)

9 Mar

Here is Part 2 of my  interview with parenting with technology expert Diane Kendall.   She offered heaps of really great, practical advice, so our interview is posted as three separate posts.  (Here’s Part 1).  Part 3 will be posted next week… Stay tuned!

TNP:  What are the biggest benefits of technology for kids? Why should they be exposed?  At what age?

DK:  To me, the two biggest benefits of technology for kids are becoming independent learners and no restraints on knowledge and creativity. The programs/apps/online experiences that are now available now, even for little ones, means that kids can teach themselves lots of things, at their own pace. I always laugh when I hear people say what will happen later when learning isn’t all bells and whistles and interactive characters. My question is:   “Who says there are no challenges in learning using these applications?”

Kids don’t always get the right answer, nor when playing a game, do they become good at it right away. If a game or a learning program is any good, and kids go back to it repeatedly, it is because they find some kind of challenge in it. If the technology was all easy and mindless, they wouldn’t go back to it. Obviously some challenges are greater than others, can lead to more real world skills, and can help kids learn things that will help them with the kinds of skills that they will need for standardized schooling.   But the great thing is that kids can go at their own pace using many of these apps and programs.  They are not waiting on others to get to their level. They are learning that it is ok to forge on ahead. There is a lot being said in the press and in education about how kids are going to have to be more responsible for their own education in the future. I think technology is going to be a big part of that.

As for knowledge, I was in a meeting the other day and someone was bemoaning the fact that kids have no geographic sense. “They don’t know where Tunisia is!” she exclaimed.  My answer to that was looking up where Tunisia is is so easy for kids today that the real problem is taking kids to the next level – What is important in the world today about Tunisia? How are they connected to Tunisia (at least in a kind of six degrees of separation sense)? What compelling reasons are there to know about this country or any other? If kids can answer those questions they are much more likely to know where Tunisia is.

“Factual knowledge is no longer an issue. Kids can look up what they want, when they want. That is very cool. But it makes our job as adults and teachers a bit harder because asking and getting at the answers to those other higher level questions can be a bit tougher, but definitely more necessary.”

As far as creativity goes, I love that many of the tools to create art, music, video, and other media are becoming simplified so that kids can use them to create as sophisticated products as adults can. I think that is very empowering to kids.  Don’t get me wrong. I think it is important for kids to create off the computer as well. Get messy with paint and clay and dirt out in the garden and build with blocks and all the rest. But there is something very satisfying about creating something fairly sophisticated, even at a young age, and I think that is a great benefit of technology for kids.

So when should they start at all of this? My answer is that parents know best about much of this. It is important to keep technology appropriate, set some time limits, make sure there is a mixture of activities and more. Because I was a reviewer, my two kids, started young at around 18 months or so because there was always lots of technology at our house. If exposure to technology is done as a “laptime” activity I personally think that there is some merit to doing it with preschoolers. It is a great way to supplement the learning of shapes, colors, letters, simple math concepts, reading and more.

“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?