Tablets for Kids-If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

Seems like everyone and their cousin has a tablet these days.  Many models have become quite affordable, and some people just seem driven to have the latest technology no matter what the cost.  One piece of fallout from this digital revolution that’s creating portable computing is that our children are exposed to the devices at younger and younger ages. How do you feel about tablets for kids?

I had a lunch outing with a young mom the other day, and was delighted to see that she brought her two-year-old son.  Of course, being two, he got a bit antsy before we ladies were done with lunch.  Twenty years ago, I would have jiggled the baby, tried a few distractions from my diaper bag, then had to excuse myself before the tyke started howling and disturbed the whole restaurant.  My young friend just handed him her mini tablet!  When he tired of one game, she helped him switch to another, then finally put a movie on for him to watch while we finished lunch and he dozed off to sleep.  Quite a change over twenty years!

Now, I’m not being critical at all.  Parents are going to use the tools they have available to occupy, entertain, and yes, even educate their children.  A few generations ago, we had televisions, then desktop computers and video games, and now tablets.  The same questions loom, and I’m pretty sure we will arrive at the same answers: It’s not necessarily the technology that’s bad for kids, it’s how we choose to use it.  The scientists can debate all they like, but the fact of the matter is that tablets are here to stay, and developers are very mindful of young parents’ tendencies to want distractions for little ones.  Tablets for kids are here to stay.  How will you choose to respond?

Granted, I don’t have a young child in the house anymore (though someday I may become a grandma).  I do have some strong opinions on the subject, though, perhaps because I’m an educator.

Like television, computers, video games, and all of the other techie toys that we’ve grown so fond of, let’s use these devices sensibly with the kids.  The key, like for most of the rest of life, is moderation and discretion.

I do feel that kids need to learn other strategies for distracting themselves, for soothing themselves to sleep, and for interacting with the rest of the world.  I do feel that it is very counterproductive to ALWAYS hand your child a gizmo when he or she is fussy.  I also feel that we do children a huge disservice when we use these devices as a substitute for interaction and monitoring that parents have always needed to be doing.  In other words, tablets are no more babysitters than televisions were when my children were young.

That being said, tablets and phones and similar items are not going away any time soon, and we need to learn to use them (and have our children use them) wisely and well.  Take the good things and maximize them and weed out the counterproductive aspects.  That takes a bit of doing, but it is quite possible.

One of the first things I would suggest is an app (yes, there really is “an app for that”!) that allows you to enforce usage limits for your child.  It will also give you information about just how much of the time you give your device to your youngster, which is good to have a clear idea about.  One such app is only 99 cents in the Apple App Store and works on all of your Apple devices.  I’m quite sure there are others out there as well, and commercials are indicating that the new Kindle Fire comes equipped with such parental controls.

Consider the types of things you have for your child to do on the device, as well.  Find apps that are developmentally appropriate, that contain no advertising, and that limit access to the internet and social media for your younger children.  It’s good to be able to disable those features if they are there.  And yes, these sorts of apps do exist!  One of my favorite review sites for Ipad apps is Best Apps for Kids, where you will find info about apps for children of all ages.  Of course, I have to admit to just a little bit of bias here; I write for the site.

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Snow Wonders

In the fuss and worry about driving and shoveling, we adults tend to forget just how fascinating the fluffy white stuff can be to young people.  Next time it snows in your area, take a few moments  to enjoy this miracle of creation with your children.  The exact activities will vary according to the age of the kids involved, but try a few of these to explore snow in all its glory.

Very young children are often experiencing snow for the very first time!  Even if your child is past his or her first winter, young children’s memories are hazy at best.  Talk with your child and provide special words for what he sees and feels, such as “crunchy,” “slippery,” “frosty,” and “slushy.”  Older kids will enjoy exploring new words such as “hoary” and “crystalline.”  This vocabulary-stretching will also give your students a head start when they begin to study literature and poetry in the upper grades.  What kind of word picture can your son or daughter make about this snowy day?  Encourage her to use words that appeal strongly to the senses.

Tracks are a natural study for snowy days.  Look for animal tracks, people tracks, and vehicle tracks.  Try this game:  While players are not watching, the leader makes unusual marks in the snow with sticks, rocks, or other devices.  Players try to guess how the tracks were made.  These simple activities help your children understand cause and effect, and encourage logic and reasoning.

Your young scientists can explore snow’s physical properties.  Catch snowflakes on a black piece of paper and check them out up close with a magnifying glass.  Have your child describe what he sees: is the flake thin, hexagonal, pointed, round, or what?  Older children can create diagrams of different types of flakes.  Does your scientist notice any categories of shapes?  What happens to snowballs that are put in a container in the freezer?  The refrigerator?  How is snow similar to ice?  How is it different?  Why does it take longer for piles of snow to melt than thin layers?  The questions are as endless as your child’s curiosity, and all that separates another annoying question from a science experiment is your attitude.  This is a great chance to use reference books to find out the how’s and why’s of snow.

How about a snow sculpture contest?  Traditional snowmen are nice, but can anyone build a snowcow?  How about a snow rabbit?  One caution, however.  Older children and great packing snow can create a dangerous situation.  Be aware of what the young architects are up to and supervise tunnels, tall walls, and roofs to be sure your children are safe from cave-ins.

Or, try playing “Fox and Geese.”  This tag-like game is best played when snow is deep enough to make paths.  Tramp out a large circle, and make several spokes that meet in the middle at the hub.  Choose one player to be the fox.  The fox tries to catch a goose and the first goose caught gets to be the next fox. Players must stay on the paths!  If the fox steps out, that player must catch two geese to be done being the fox.  The hub area in the center is safe for up to two geese at one time.

And for those unfortunates who live in places where snow is a real novelty or unheard of completely, you can still join in the fun!  Try some snow art.  Use white soap flakes mixes with enough water to make a paste and spread it on black or dark blue paper to create a snowy scene.  It makes a nice textured creation.  Try experiments with ice, as well.  Which takes up more space: ice or water?  How long does it take ice to melt?  Does it make a difference how large the chunk of ice is?

If your family is looking for books about the snow, check these titles:

  • Snow by Thelma Bell
  • A Walk in the Snow by Phyllis S. Busch
  • Snow is Falling by Franklyn M. Branley
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Your librarian will have other suggestions, as well.  Have a cup of hot chocolate and snuggle up with a good book!

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Got a question?  Have a comment?  Leave it below and I’ll get right back to you!