Good-bye YouTube Kids – Hello Free Play

It’s been a long time since I’ve written.  After-schooling turned out more to be me killing myself to keep my house at an acceptable level of clean + making dinner + trying to keep the kids clean, and maybe doing homework … Continue reading

Lessons With Technology. Reflections, Week 14

There’s something about this time of the year that calls me to the couch in front of the tv. I find myself also putting on extra shows for Elizabeth in the morning, a movie to watch together in the evening, and iPad time in the afternoon so that I can have a moment of relative peace. This week was no different, and that iPad showed it’s face for or after every school lesson I think.  Yet, the lessons learned with it were numerous, and at this age, life-long, as weighted as that sounds.

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My pumpkin picture with the iPhone. Sorry again, this iPad takes TERRIBLE pictures!

First off, and most importantly, the iPad lessons began with trust. A few months ago, I had downloaded a few apps in Spanish and English, mostly about the ABC’s, as that is the center of our learning right now. My intention was to use them sparingly, in place of tv time, as rewards, or occasionally for school when I was unprepared or low on energy. My intention was met with anxious interest by Elizabeth, who could not wait to play them, and at first I let her have time on the iPad in addition to the tv thinking that after about a week the novelty would wear off a little, and tried to convey that next week, iPad and tv time are the same thing, she could have less shows and more game time or the other way around, but not have both. I think my words went in one ear and out the other, and what ended up happening was that she started to get up earlier and earlier, think 5:30am early, to play on the iPad before it was revoked when I got up at 7:30. If I caught her, I then reduced tv time, but it didn’t make a difference for the following day, and the same happened again. I started to lose sleep, waking up early wondering if she was up and on the iPad, and she started to become sneaky about it, taking it into her bedroom, closing the door and leaving the fan on so that we couldn’t hear the music.

When I did catch her using the iPad in the morning, I tried to convey that I didn’t think she should use it unsupervised and acted like it was a no-no, but didn’t get mad. What I wanted to convey was that I felt like she shouldn’t use it unsupervised, that it needed to be regulated. I wanted to know if I could trust her to leave it down and have her not play on it. But we were both off the point, and I was instead acting like I couldn’t trust her and so she acted the way I was expecting and playing it sneakily. Finally, I realized that I needed to be very specific and to speak to her in a validating way. Upon figuring this out, I said something like this to her, “I know that you are capable of waiting for me to get up, and I prefer that the iPad be used while Daddy or I are around, so if I leave it out where you can reach it, will you not use it?” She said yes, and has been an angel – and has pointed this out a few times.

Sometimes we parents, everybody really, get in a slump and just don’t know how to get back out of it, or we do, but it is a lot of work and takes some time. I feel like I go through cycles of being a good communicator and times in which I suck. Or maybe, I just don’t get something for a while and then I have an ah-ha moment. After having a conversation with a friend about parenting the other day, I wrote myself a message on my little dry erase board in the kitchen that says, “How can I show her I trust her?” Sometimes the roots of problems stem not from the actual behavioral problem, but something quite different. I think that the iPad games are very tempting, and Elizabeth had figured out how to get away with being allowed to play them and have her tv time without getting into much trouble. I think too that I was encouraging her to be sneaky by saying things that sounded more complainy than reinforcing or guiding. By asking her to improve her behavior in relation to the iPad in a way that indicated that I trusted her and believed that she was capable of doing it, I took the risk of having her play it while we were asleep again, but also to prove to me and herself that she was mature enough to do as I had asked, and as she had promised.

The simple lesson in this is not simple at all! Trust is a lesson that reaches deep – way down into the depths of who we are and who we will become. Trusting her in this simple promise teaches her to uphold her promise, self-confidence when she does and when I recognize when she does, helps ensure good behavior throughout the rest of her day as well as good relations with her brother for some reason. Showing Elizabeth that I trust her in just this one simple way runs a vein of tranquility through the whole house, as absurd and magnanimous as that sounds, but it is true. Showing trust to my 4-year-old now also instills self-respect, self-confidence, and a self-knowing that she will carry with her throughout her life. As a homeschooled friend of mine often says, these are the “formative years.”

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In the exhaustion of raking a forest’s worth of leaves from our front lawn, darkness at 6pm, and two very energetic kids, I let Elizabeth have lots of iPad time this week, including for school. We finished up the Halloween unit on Wednesday, and I wanted to continue to nurture her enthusiasm for Halloween, so we painted Halloween themed pictures, and one day, I just let her watch short Halloween videos on YouTube and play the app games. One of the apps I had downloaded was Learning With Homer, which is full of games, songs, and poems about the ABC’s, among a few other things. The free version is chock full of stuff to unlock, but if purchased, includes lots, lots more, including the ability to send and receive emails. I have seriously considered purchasing it, but can’t commit to the price, which is kind of steep, especially after all ready paying for other homeschooling materials. We may purchase it as a Christmas gift, but I ask myself, “Do I want to increase the iPad temptation again?”

I purchased our curriculum in hard copy this year. I prefer books with pages. But I definitely think that technology has a place in school learning. I am daunted by the idea of teaching typing, because it was so boring when I was in school, but there’s no way around the importance of learning technology for my daughter’s generation. It is said that it is the way of the future, right? The public school in our small town has embraced learning with technology, for better or for worse, as I saw with my own eyes as a substitute teacher. 4 Mothers blog (I’ll get you a link on that when I get a computer again…) posted a while back about how kids non-passively watch tv, and I think the same is true for all technology. Their little brains don’t just tune out while they are playing a game on the iPad or watching a tv show, they are learning at the same time, and thinking about what they see, taking it in and making it part of them. I know that I dislike some of the way the tv shows that Elizabeth prefers make a non-emergency seem like the end of the world, and I dislike how that attitude translates into her real-life behavior, but the benefits of learning math and reading seem to outweigh the cons, so I continue to let her watch them. I have seen in my cousin’s little girl amazing hand-eye coordination in using the iPad, and Elizabeth more or less taught herself the ABC’s and their sounds with a little Leap Frog radio. Active learning with technological, educational toys have given our kids a whole new way of learning that my generation never had. Is it better? Is it worse? It doesn’t matter, it just is.

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Real books with real pages.

That said, I still stand by books with pages, and puzzles with wooden boards. I think that real life is not on a computer screen, even if you are in the movie making business, and that learning also must be done in real life. ABCmouse.com is tempting, but real writing is not with a computer mouse nor a finger tracing on a touchscreen, it is holding a pen in a real hand. I strongly believe too that life must be experienced. There is much difference between seeing a lion in a book or on a screen, and seeing one in real life in a zoo; as well as a big difference between seeing one in a zoo and one in the wild. Doing all of a child’s learning on a computer has drawbacks that leave the child slightly outside of real life and real learning, in my opinion, but some learning on the computer or iPad is imperative to a child’s survival in the “real world” as an adult, and we will continue to use it as a tool and supplement in our own homeschool.

Chime in: What are your thoughts on technology and learning? Do you know of a fun program for learning the basics of typing and computer use for children?