In an age where we literally have an array of technological devices at our fingertips, there are a high number of articles, blogs and opinion pieces espousing the dangers of ‘screen time’ for our young people. At the same time, there are conflicting opinions highlighting the way in which technology can serve to bolster our children’s education and work to support learners as they move through their education pathways. So as parents, how do we distinguish what technology is beneficial for our children and their learning? Whose opinions do we take advice from?
As parents, we continually struggle with wanting to ensure that our children experience all that childhood has to offer them. After all, it would appear that childhood is a fleeting thing – they do not have a great deal of time to indulge in all the wonders of being a kid. But at the same time, we also want to ensure that our children are well prepared for life as adults. And in a technology-flooded society, this balance is increasingly difficult to achieve. So how can we ensure that children fully engage with ‘childhood’ but at the same time learn to use technology in a balanced and responsible way? In other words, how do we ensure they get both the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’?
We have set up a system in our household that we feel achieves a realistic balance. It ensures the children engage in a wide array of activities, while at the same time learning how to be responsible with the devices we have at home. We have a ‘TV free’ week. They know that they will not watch any TV from Monday to Friday morning. Instead, they arrive home from school, do their homework, and then (weather permitting) head outside to race around. We ensure that, while they eat earlier than us, we sit with them and have great conversations at their dinner time. If, during these conversations, questions come up about facts or figures that need clarifying – they know we can reach for the iPad and find the answers. The use of iPads and other internet-capable devices can serve to strengthen our conversations (the current focus being dinosaurs and super heroes). We look up the information, we share it, and then the Ipad gets shut off and the conversation (and dinner) continues. The children are viewing a model from us that demonstrates technology as a tool to expand our knowledge and to strengthen conversation and connection with others.
Our weekends are a little different. We allow morning television and enjoy cuddles watching cartoons in bed together. Our children are ridiculously early risers, but will entertain themselves (with a lot of threat and bribery) until 6am when they know they have some cartoons they can watch with us. After breakfast, the TV goes off and they are then expected to have a day free from technology. They play with each other, argue with each other, race outside, climb trees, bounce on trampolines, play sport, hurt themselves, get incredibly filthy dirty, and run themselves ragged. It is only then that we use TV or ipads for a limited time frame as a ‘wind down’ before the night-time routine. If we allow them to have some ‘game time’ the timer goes on and they have a limited amount to play with the games. The games we select are ones downloaded for generally an educational purpose. At the moment, the focus is maths. Both kids enjoy a variety of maths apps that build their basic facts knowledge, all the while allowing them to have some fun. There are an abundance of apps available online that have an educational basis while still being entertaining for children. These apps just take a little bit of research and some ongoing monitoring on the part of parents. There are an equal, if not more, amount of apps available that appear, on the surface, to have an educational value – but other than keeping children quiet and entertained – do not do anything to draw from an educational basis.
We use other technology in our household that contributes to our children’s knowledge about the world around them. Our kids love to bake. They use the blender, bread maker, pasta machine, microwave, oven and kettle. These are all examples of technology that allow them to learn about food preparation. My son, in particular, loves to use any tools available in Grandad’s shed. He is busy most days inventing, creating and making, using building tools and machines. He also is the first to be behind the lawnmower when the time comes to address the lawns. The point being, our children are learning that technological devices are simply a tool to aide in their approach on life. They can provide extended knowledge. They can consolidate past learning. They can allow them to create, make, clean and build. They are learning that technology is not all there is to life – it is simply available to draw on when it makes life easier. At the end of the day, it is just about balance.