Let’s talk about technology. Let’s face it; in this day and age, technology is at the centre of everything and is a massive part of our children’s future. I heard someone say that by the time our children are out of school, we will be illiterate as the global language will be coding. Hearing things like this make me want take out the computer immediately and teach my children how to code before bedtime. But, at the same time, I know that too much screen time at this age is detrimental to my children’s development. So… the struggle is; how do I equip my children for a future filled with technology, without allowing technology to dominate their lives???
My biggest struggle is that technology is passive and feeds content to children, getting them to react accordingly, whereas in play, children create the content and their responses vary according to the way their imagination changes. Even in educational games on the computer or iPad, the responses are pre-programmed so I have difficulty seeing the developmental benefits at this stage, while knowing that navigating technology is imperative.
For reals though guys, I have been walking this tightrope for five years now, and I’ve learnt a few things along the way:
Navigating technology requires skills my kids don’t have yet. So, in a fit of panic my husband and I decided we needed to teach our two eldest children to code (they are 4 and 5 years old). They have a basic understanding of computers from school so initially, they were keen and on-board. They became frustrated soon into the process, not because of the difficulty of the content, but because of the difficulty of coordinating what they were doing with their hands and what was happening on the screen. Yup, hand-eye-coordination, people. Before a skill can be translated into the 2D space, it HAS TO BE MASTERED in the 3D space. This makes me happy; it means I can go outside with a hoola hoop and a beanbag, get my kids to throw the beanbag through the hoop and build the skills they are going to need to succeed in a technological world.
Meaningful technological skills (like coding) need a huge amount of imagination. I have spoken about the necessity of imagination play in a previous blog, and it is essential when applied to technology. Kids can’t learn to create content if they are constantly being fed content. Playing with blocks or a construction set, for example, opens up the world of creation, as kids need to use their imagination to build buildings, or shapes, or patterns.
Engaging with technology is basically just sophisticated problem-solving. Because it uses software, technology has glitches and problems. Thus, when engaging with it, no matter how basic or sophisticated, you have to be able to cope with problems arising. Children have to have strategies to deal with those problems. If you give your child a construction set and ask them to build you a car; the process will be filled with experimenting with different pieces. Children will try pieces that don’t fit and then replace them with pieces that do. They can attempt to design a car, for example. This will involve them trying different designs until they find one that works, etc. Throughout that process, they are developing problem-solving strategies and learning how to cope when things don’t work out the first time.
Technology can be used as a ‘sanity lifeline’. I used to be so rigid about screen time; it didn’t exist in my home, like AT ALL. I’ve begun to relax a little and, every now and again, I put a movie on for my kids when I am at my wits end. That way they get their screen time fix, and I get a cup of boiling hot tea in silence! Immediately afterwards though, they are cranky from sitting still for so long, so I make sure I have an activity planned so that they can get their minds and bodies working again. If, for example, I put a clip about dragons on, I’ll turn it off, tip up the blocks and say ‘now let’s build a dragon fort’. This prevents an end of screen time tantrum, and allows them to access parts of their brains they had turned off while watching the TV.
All in all, the one important thing I’ve learnt is that technology is, and will be, an integral part of our children’s lives, and it’s up to us to help them build the skills they will need to navigate this in the future.
As one parent to another – we’re in this together!