Monday, June 20, 2011

Thoughts about kids and screens

I had a nice discussion about kids and screens with my friend Heidi Haas tonight.  She works with kids.  She works with kids who are doing fine, and kids who are struggling (emotionally), she works with many different ages of kids.  I have the highest regard for her work, so when she responded positively to the following ideas, it made me think that others might be interested in them, too.

She asked me a general question about what do I think about kids and iOS gadgets.  I responded with the following:

   * Basically, screen time is screen time to me.  Computers, handhelds, televisions, game consoles, all these are basically similar to me.  We let our kids use them all, within limits.   Probably about 45 minutes a day, to an hour, if we averaged it all out.
   * Since the iOS platform has matured, I have been inclined to make a finer distinction.  No longer can we assume "book -- good.  Screen -- bad".  There are plenty of apps for ipods and ipads that help kids do things that are creative and educational.  So with Jonas, I have at times used a "brain food vs brain candy" scheme.  Many apps on his beloved iPod are brain candy (plants vs zombies being his current favorite). Some however, that have to do with reading, writing, drawing, problem solving, picture taking, music making, these qualify as brain food.  We let him have more time with these activities than he would with brain candy apps.
   * Furthermore, apps are a great reward to use with token economy systems (star charts).  They don't cost much, you don't step on them in the dark in bare feet, and they don't take up any physical space.  I have had deals with Jonas where, if he "beat" (exhausted) a brain food app (such as sight words), then I would buy him a game.  This has worked well.  There is even a star chart app (of course).

She asked what I think about very little kids and iOS devices.  I think the platform itself is great for kids, as it gives them independent, portable access to a lot of great activities. However, it is so easy to use that kids could wander into content that is not at all appropriate for them, if the grown ups aren't careful.  Like any screen time, it is very important to be aware of what your child is accessing from moment to moment.

I think this independent learning is an important and under-recognized feature.  I see this both in Julian, and in my adult students.  As an educator, I'm tempted to decry the loss of personal contact in the learning process.  However, when I step back, I see that it is very empowering for learners to have total control over the pace and direction of learning.  I find they still come to me (teacher or parent) about things, but they feel good about learning a lot, then asking more sophisticated questions.  I think there is a lot about this to like.

I think our boys have learned a lot from their iPods.  Lately, they have discovered the camera function on Julian's (which is an old iPhone).  I was waiting for that.  I'm going to post some of the best results on instagram on my feed (IanCamera).  I'll tag them, although I'm guessing that you will be able to spot most of them.

Happy Tapping!  (With or without elmo :-)