Oh technology, I have a love/hate relationship with electronics. On one hand I think they are a time suck and I have this ideal in my head that our kids will always be entertained without them. However, we are a household of electronics users. I won’t deny it, I really like my iPad and iPhone and use them daily. Where would I be without Wikipedia or 101 Cookbooks? What about the new Google maps! At the age of 10, D learned to write his own computer programs to do his math homework. He loves computers and technology. The use of electronic devices for our kids has been a topic on my mind for quite sometime and so I thought I would talk about it here, to share our experience.
I’d like to rewind three years and set the stage for where we are at now. When S was born we still had a TV and cable. I watched a lot of TV then, more than I am proud of now, mostly to fill the silence of a stay at home mama in a house by herself with a newborn. Eventually as S grew up she began to take notice of the TV and would become entranced. Once I realized what was happening I turned off our cable. We still had Netflix for movies at night but no more TV shows and no more commercials. Suddenly my free time really opened up and I thought: what have I been doing my whole life wasting my time watching TV? I think about all the time I could have learned something awesome like making cheese, learning French, or tending to my own veggie garden. The thing that I thought most important was that my daughter not be transfixed with TV. Once you go without, it’s very hard to be around television.
So fast forward a few more months and S is walking and beginning to mimic sounds. D had recently bought and iPad for me so that I wouldn’t have to sit at the computer during the day. What an amazing piece of technology it is, I won’t go into it because you all know… I use it for everything, from note taking, to finding recipes, and writing blog posts. Then one day S who had never said anything more than mama or papa, blurts out with extreme clarity, “iPad”. We just about doubled over laughing thinking, what have we done?!
The iPad has proven to be a very interesting tool for her. She quickly learned to turn it on and unlock it. We put several Italian animal and number apps on it so that she could hear another voice speaking Italian and learn new words. At 2 years old she could navigate the apps for her without even flinching. The next year we got a second iPad with a camera on it to talk to D’s parents in Italy. We gave the older iPad to Sofia. We took out everything except her apps and a set grouping of videos from YouTube that we screen first. She has no access to the internet.
I would like to interject one thing about movies here since we still have no TV. At 2 1/2 we tried to introduce her to very simple and sweet Miyazaki films dubbed in Italian (once again to push the language). At first she liked them, then she became obsessed. It freaked me out so I stopped letting her watch them. I learned after that though, that obsession is part of the way she learns. She found something else that really interested her and focused on it and only it for over a month. For example the book Nurse Nancy. She read it until the pages were falling out. It sparked an interest in doctors and the human body. She learned all about the human heart and how blood flows.
Back to the iPad…Now at three she has to share the iPad with V who learned to use it so fast I was astounded. The fine motor skills created using this thing just amaze me everyday. Most of our apps are language based relating sounds with pictures, numbers, letters and so on. Over the holidays S has become obsessed with the Nutcracker ballet from several different book versions that we have. We put the video of the London Ballet version of the Nutcracker on her iPad so that she could see the real thing. This was her first introduction to ballet and what an incredible thing it has been for her. She watched the entire almost 2 hour video and then would pick and chose parts that she like the best and play them over and over again. She would then attempt to put her body into the positions that the ballet dancers were in. She learned to sing in tune the opening song. The love of this ballet moved on to others (that we also put on there anticipating this) like Swan Lake and even opera. We’ve checked out books about ballet dancers and she spends most of her days dancing and telling the story of the Nutcracker.
So what is my opinion in the end? I believe that a guided use of technology can be a very useful learning tool. When it is used to learn new skills and expand your knowledge of art science and literature, why not!? We do limit the amount of time the iPad can be used by the girls each day and they must share it with one another. This part is very challenging but a good lesson I think. They are slowly learning to take turns and work together on some things. We try to live a more simple and homemade life but one that is in harmony with technology. We try to show our girls that you can use the computer or iPad in a very useful way. It’s not all about vegging out and playing games.
In the meanwhile we have also sold our TV and cancelled Netflix, as we never ended up watching movies! I spend my nights crafting or reading and D playing games on the computer or reading next to me; it’s interesting how we feel just as close doing different activities in the same room as watching the same movie. Over the holidays we also re-introduced movies for the kids starting with a single showing of the Muppets Christmas Carol, and then some Studio Ghibli and Pixar movies on occasion; since we don’t have a TV we just setup the littlest living room with kid-size furniture and a spare computer monitor attached to a DVD player.
How do you handle technology in your home? Do you say no TV or computer all together? Or like us, do you allow limited access to educational things to supplement their learning experience?