Raising Kids in a Techno World

If you’ve met Kullervo and me, and seen the way that we raise our kids, you have probably heard us express disdain over all of the technology in kids’ lives.  We work really hard to minimize that, and make sure our kids get childhoods that aren’t spent in front of a screen.  To that end, we take them camping, they help us grow plants, they know the farmers from whom we get our meat, eggs, and much of our produce.  We encourage them to read, to explore, to pretend.  We subtly work them away from having all of their games revolve around characters (you can play pretend just as well if your guys are just heroes without them having to be Batman or Superman, and your girls can just be girls and don’t have to be Cinderella and Ariel).  As a result, they have invented their own characters in games (we have accumulated the Red Checkers Men (with their flying car), the Blue Goons, the Poison Red Toad Yogre, Lulu, the Dark Rider and his purple horse, and the Sun God, all of whom have distinct personalities and goals (and sometimes superpowers)).  Our kids can run and bike for miles, and play outside almost every day.  We feel strongly that this is an important part of childhood.

We also have felt strongly that things like playing on iPhones and other devices all the time really detract from that.  Part of that is due to Oliver’s personality type—he gets so involved in stuff that he thinks about it constantly, and when he’s focusing all his attention on, say, Angry Birds, he’s not actually becoming a better human being.

There is also the revulsion that comes from going out to eat and seeing someone with children at another table who have propped up an iPad or other tablet that is playing a kids’ movie so that their children will sit quietly at the table.  I realize, when I think rationally, that there are times when this might be your best or only option.  And when I see someone once in my life, I don’t know the back story of why they are doing this.  But if people are doing that regularly—well, in my opinion, there are so many problems with teaching children that they aren’t expected to behave properly in social situations.  If I sat at a table with a group and just looked at my smartphone the entire time, it would be shockingly rude.  What are we teaching children if we aren’t expecting them to try to sit, quietly, having a conversation, learning table manners and what it’s like to eat out?  Again, I can see situations where it really might be the best option, but I genuinely hope it would be the exception and not the rule.

So, with all of this, and our pull away from technology, imagine my chagrin when, as a part of a raffle from a school fundraiser, Hazel won an iPad.  All of what I’m about to say aside, seriously?  What the heck does a four year old need with an iPad?!!  Our first thought was that we would sell it, and use the money to let the kids buy a ton of books.  But we decided to go ahead and try it out, with the firm rule that the only apps we would get would be educational apps, so that if the kids were using it, at least they wouldn’t be rotting their brains on “Birds Who Teach Our Kids About Revenge”/”Happy Pigs”.

My quest began—it turns out there are a lot of apps that claim to be educational, but the link to education is tenuous at best.  Letter/word tracing apps are okay… but for the fact that you don’t write with your finger, so you aren’t learning much beyond what the letters look like (which, since my kids can read, is not something they need to learn).  Math games are often so filled with non-math related activities that they don’t actually teach much.  Finding apps that are appropriately leveled for my kids is also difficult.

I have found some diamonds in the rough, though.  First of all, I downloaded the Kindle app, so I can borrow library books for Oliver to read.  I feel like it’s a win-win—he is playing on the iPad, and also reading the Magic Tree House series (which he loves).  And it can be hard to find the right Magic Tree House book at the library, and hard to want to spend a $5 on a book that he’ll finish in two hours.  I have also found some books that Hazel adores.

Another app that has proven itself is one called “Stack the States”.  It’s not a game for pre-readers and early readers to play independently.  But Oliver, as an advanced reader, has learned so much from it.  Seriously, he can name at least 35 of the states without looking at a map; if I name a state, he can tell me the capital for 24 of them.  And he knows how they all fit together on a map and how they are all shaped.  He answered questions about the states to earn states on the map, and when he earns enough states, he unlocks games—which include puzzles of the states, and identifying the states based on their shape.  Here’s what I like about it—the games that he unlocks are still educational.  They aren’t just brain rotting mindless activities.

And herein lies the problem with game designers these days, in my opinion.  They don’t give kids enough credit.  Sure, brain-rotting things are fun… but kids have so much fun with technology—just using it–that it doesn’t have to be brainless.

So, I am rethinking my opinion about the rampant technology in the world right now—there is a place for it, and I think it could be a useful tool in education (if you gave kids, along with summer reading lists, summer apps that they should work on, they could all come into a grade with more content knowledge that the teachers then wouldn’t have to teach, but could supplement with more in-depth projects.  But, before that can happen, work needs to be done to develop quality apps for the devices that will actually promote learning, as well as help kids memorize the things we expect them to memorize.

What about you?  Do you have any excellent apps that you would recommend?  What do you like about them?