Since many schools are starting up this year doing distance learning that relies heavily on technology I thought I’d take a little bit of time to speak on the subject.
What is technology?
Considering that every modern gadget we use could be considered technology, let’s focus on just a few things that kids might be using during the school year.
This may not be the most popular way to access distance learning this year, but when you consider the amount of access people have to this technology, it is an option for online learning in a pinch.
Whether you’re a millionaire or you find yourself homeless pretty much anyone on the planet has access to a smartphone. The key word here is access. Deciding to choose to own one themselves or not seems to be preference rather than lack of access.
The next step up from smartphones is the tablet. These devices have come to replace computers in many homes. I know in my own home we use tablets more than any other device we have access to.
The popular Apple version of this technology may dominate the marketplace and seem financially out of reach for some people, but keeping access in mind, there are cheaper versions from companies like Amazon that almost anyone can afford. Last I checked you can get a functioning Amazon product that will work with wifi for less than $100.
It seems strange to me, but it seems like this almost is a dying technology for younger generations. With the advances in tablet and smartphone technology, one might actually get through life without owning a computer. However, schools rely on this technology and many students will borrow these devices during the upcoming school year.
Gaming Consoles/Smart TVs
I wouldn’t have thought of this but our school district reminded students during a recent informational meeting that they may have internet access through their gaming consoles and Smart TVs. So even when you didn’t think you could have access to distance learning your house may be hiding hidden technology!
When to start technology exposure
It’s inevitable that children are going to be in front of technology in one way or another. When I was a kid most technology beyond television was so new and so exciting that my parents couldn’t help but to encourage me to experience it.
In this day and age, we are bombarded by technology and really have to choose when to expose our kids to these things. I wouldn’t put an infant in front of a television to teach it how to speak, but using non-visual technology i.e. playing music or having books read to small children seems to be a popular way to use technology to teach at that age.
I don’t think that there is a set age that you should feel it necessary to expose your children to technology, but as a school volunteer I can tell you that “computer time” starts in kindergarten.
Our local kindergarten students spend fifteen to twenty minutes every day or every other day on classroom computers working through an individually paced reading program built to reinforce skills that the teacher also is teaching in the classroom. While I wouldn’t expect a child that young to master computer skills like programming or even two-hand typing, showing a child how to use a tablet or a computer at an early age might help them as they use them in this early grade.
How to limit exposure
As with anything in life, moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle. You hear horror stories of people who do not have this concept mastered, but teaching children good moderation skills with technology will benefit them long after school is over.
Two ways to practice moderation with technology for your children is to:
Luckily software companies are aware of parents’ struggles with handling technology in the hands of their children. At least two companies that I know of, Apple and Amazon, have set up ways to limit the amount of hours a child can use their devices without having to have the parent stand over the child with a timer. Automatic settings on devices now track the number of hours or even minutes a child can use an app on their phone and will automatically cut off access when the limit is reached.
Ironically technology has helped parents limit use of technology.
Above and beyond automatic time limits, having scheduled time away from phones and tvs is important. This school year children will be spending more time in front of their devices, but that doesn’t mean they have to spend all day in front of them.
I’m lucky because my kids took up sports at early ages. This meant that (pre-covid) my daughter was at softball three nights a week and sadly right now my son would have been at football practices five nights a week.
With COVID restrictions in place no sports will be played this fall. To combat that lack of activity, my plan is to get my kids out of the house on their bikes, skateboards or recently we’ve taken up golf as a family. In the last week we’ve biked 25 miles and played 18 holes of golf, swam an afternoon away at a relatives house and hung out with their grandparents fishing and tinkering with projects.
Benefits of technology for kids
Even before COVID seemed to make the world stop, the number one benefit technology brought to kids was access to the world. In a split second my children can find answers that it would have taken me hours or sometimes days to have access to when I was their age considering that most households in the seventies and eighties didn’t own full sets of Encyclopedia Britannica.
As much as everyone understands that distance learning is not the best way for most kids to experience schooling, think of just what their school year would look like this year without the technology that we do have access to.
I know that our school district was caught off guard with the shelter in place restrictions in March and had to jump in with both feet to upgrade their technology stockpile when they realized just how many kids needed access to devices. During this interim time last year my son received a mere 5 hours of face to face instruction from his teacher from March to May. The school gave us access to printed materials, but it clearly wasn’t prepared like other districts to handle an emergency like the one we are facing now.
With upgrades, this year my second grader will have daily two hours of face to face instruction sessions with his teacher. This will happen five days a week in addition to daily access to self paced computer apps and programs. The hope is that the kids will eventually get back to in person school.
Without access to technology, we’d miss out on months of instruction from the teacher and push this generation of kids even farther behind in their education.
No matter what your opinion of technology is, clearly there are benefits from having it around. Preparing your child with good technology habits will only benefit them in the future.