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.  Check out TimeLock .  If Android is more your speed, check out MM Guardian.  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.  If you’re interested, you can see my opinions of several great educational apps linked at my author page on Best Apps for Kids.  Stop on over to visit, and get some great ideas of what’s out there for your children to enjoy while they learn!

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Got a question or a comment about tablets for kids (or any other educational topic)?  Please leave it below, or you are welcome to email me directly at sfleming1235(at)gmail.com.

Getting Cryptic: Using Secret Codes to Build Skills

T-f-d-s-f-u-d-p-e-f-t!!  Many will remember the fun of using secret codes to send messages.  Children as young as second grade (or whenever reading and writing skills begin to develop) can enjoy and benefit from this activity.  Codes provide practice with spelling skills, reading skills, and phonics as well as logic and reasoning.  And perhaps even more important, they add elements of intrigue and fun that may motivate your student to learn and practice vital skills.

The simplest codes are created using substitution: “a” becomes “b”, “b” becomes “c” and so on, as in the phrase above.  Another simple code can be created by substituting numbers or symbols for letters.  If you have a personal computer, check your available fonts for symbol sets like Wingdings on most PC’s.  These will print various symbols instead of letters as you type.  These types of codes make it easy to uncover the translation.

Your young child who is learning to read and spell will practice these skills by matching coded symbols, letters or numbers with a key that you provide.  Pig-Latin, Op-Talk and other oral codes build understanding of spelling patterns.  Sign language finger spelling also encourages children to improve their spelling skills.  Your older student will be challenged by trying to decode the message without a key.  He or she will have to use knowledge of the English language

(what letters often go together?  What suffixes or prefixes might be on the words?) and will learn about letter frequency.  Did you know that “e” is the most common letter in English?  “S,” “r,” “m,” “t,” and “n” are other very common letters to try.  You can add a little zing to messages by writing them in code, and help your child practice many academic skills at the same time.

When your student is older and more experienced, you’ll want to provide a greater challenge.  Try a Tic-Tac-Toe code, for example.  Build the encryption key by making three tic-tac-toe boards.  Number them however you wish (one number for each puzzle board).  Now, put the numbers one through nine in the small squares in each board.  Put the letters of the alphabet into the squares as well.  Now you can assign each letter a puzzle board number and a square number, so if you’ve put everything in sequence, the letter A becomes “11″ and D becomes 14.  That’s assuming you put the letters A-I in the first grid, working from left to right and top row to bottom.  The J would be coded as 21 because it is in the first box of the second grid.  You can get creative by mixing up the letters when you put them in boxes, or by labeling the grids differently.

There are some amazingly complex codes in existence, as well.  Keys can be made from favorite books, from mathematical sequences or equations and many other things.  Your older student may well enjoy a bit of research into how codes are used in espionage and how codes have been used throughout history.  Who knows, you just may help your student towards a career in cryptography!

7-9-22-5 9-20 1 20-18-25!  9-20’19 6-21-14!

(translation: Give it a try!  It’s fun!)

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As always, I’d love to hear from you!  Drop me a note or leave me a comment with questions or suggestions!