Monday, November 7, 2011

iPads and Parenting

I'm a father of a toddler.

I have an iPad.

This article made me stop and think.

Let's back up about a decade.  I was nearing the end of my Master's courses and it was time to think about a thesis topic.  They said to pick something that interested me, because I would spend a lot of time learning about it over the next year.  This was the time in education when schools would plop computers in the classroom and tell teachers to use them... with little guidance after that.  So, to me it was a natural fit.  How can I effectively integrate technology in the way I teach?  If you've been a student of mine since then or have had a student go through my class, you'll know that I attempt to use technology in many ways in the classroom.  Some attempts are a success, and some are failures.

Anyhow, one aspect of my research that stuck with me showed that technology for little kids (1st grade and younger) can be bad.  Young children think concretely, and they can't quite comprehend what's going on when images pop up on the screen and disappear and such.  Another concept was the idea of "screen time."  Parents are wise to limit the amount of "screen time" a child has per day, whether it be on the computer, playing video games, or watching TV.

I'm not telling you how to parent your children.  I'm just giving you some nuggets that I've learned.

Enter my new job and the iPad they handed me this summer.  Soon we'll be rolling out the iPads with the kids and using them in our instruction.  I've had an iPad since July, and Ava (that's my daughter) loves it.  When she sees the iPad, I can guarantee two things.  One, I'll hear the words Daddy, iPad, couch, and Elmo repeatedly.  Two, she will go lay on the couch as she's yelling them.  I've downloaded a few Ava-friendly apps (including an Elmo alphabet app) that she loves!  I set the timer for 10-15 minutes, and we snuggle on the couch as she plays with the iPad, going from Elmo to talking animated animals, to drawing apps, to Brain Pop, to the occasional Angry Birds.  She has become very good at navigating on that machine, knowing the function of the home button and how to adjust the volume.

Does this make me a bad dad?  Am I ruining my daughter's ability to think and reason?

This all started because of physical therapy.  For some exercises she needed to be "engaged" in an activity, and her PT handed her his smart phone.  She loved it, so we started using the iPad as a motivation for some harder exercises.  Imagine a two-year old being forced to do the wheel barrow walk down the hall and into the living room.  It's a bit more palatable having some angry birds at the other end to walk to.  Somehow, we morphed it into couch time. 

In the end, I'm feeling pretty good about things.  She never uses the iPad alone.  In fact, I use it as a chance for some snuggle time, something that can be rare with an active toddler. Finally, her time is limited.  With almost no TV/video time in her life (except NFL games) 10-15 minutes a few times a week isn't going to be detrimental. 

How about you?  How do you handle technology at home with your kids?  

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