TECH WITH KIDS

What do children think about digital technology?

Up until now, the way I have talked (typed) about digital technology has been from the perspective of a twenty-something-year-old educator, and the views I have mostly considered are those of parents and my peers. However, I realized that for a blog that’s dedicated to a class called Children & Technology, there is one point-of-view I have not yet covered in detail: the children’s.

What do children think about digital technology? How do children see digital technology as integrating with other aspects of their lives? I believe there is a misconception that because children are digital natives, they do not think twice about the way they use digital technology in their everyday lives. Yet they do!

A study showed that when children ages twelve and under were asked to draw a picture of how they would adapt digital technology, they came up with many interesting answers. One child wanted to be able to touch, feel, and move things on a screen; another child wished for a platform that could search and provide results for things not by using text, but drawings. Many themes and concepts included virtual realities and simulations, and human-like robots and virtual companions. The researchers noted that children see digital technology as an extension of themselves, not as an add-on in the way I think of it.

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In 2015, BBC Newsround sought out comments from children and young teens online regarding whether or not they thought [digital] technology helped them learn better. Surprisingly, there was a range of responses across the board, such as technology can be a distraction and encourages laziness and cheating; technology is good because it’ll be the way of the future, and technology can help improve concentration and makes knowledge more accessible. The Hechinger Report got similar responses when they conducted interviews with older children from middle-class rural backgrounds–in their opinion, while digital technology can be more fun and interactive to learn with, it can also lead to more distractions and temptations.

But what about children’s perceptions of cyber-safety?

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During a pilot-study project, researchers at the Learning Science Institute Australia found that 73% of the young children interviewed said that they would tell their names and addresses to someone they knew online (i.e., a player in a game). In my experience, children consider a stranger to be a random person on the street that they have never met. However, children feel a sense of familiarity with the people they’re interacting with in their virtual worlds.

As children explore and use new technologies and apps, parents and educators should be checking in and initiating dialogues to understand how children are thinking about digital technology. Every child is unique, and every child will have their own individual opinions and needs when it comes to using digital technology.

(Image credits: Latitude and the Learning Science Institute Australia)

apps

Storypark Documentation App

A few weeks ago, Drew Williams, a manager from Storypark came to my Children & Technology class and gave us a presentation on Storypark–a learning stories and e-portfolios app. While Storypark does share some characteristics of the HiMama app, it is still rather distinctive. Originating from New Zealand, Storypark is founded on the belief that it takes a community to raise a child, and this is reflected in the structure of the app.

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According their website, idea of Storypark is to create a secure online community to support children’s learning and development. Families and educators can privately document and share children’s growth and learning through photos, videos, stories, notes, and audio clips. Like most social media apps these days, Storypark comes with real time notifications so that users can instantly view and respond to new content.

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Parents can invite anyone they choose from anywhere in the world into their virtual communities (extended family, friends, loved ones, experts or specialists, etc)–all that is needed is the app and an internet connection! Anyone who is part of the community can comment on the posts in the portfolio and feel a part of the child’s life as they share in children’s adventures.

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Storypark is extremely affordable and accessible. The Family Plan (for parents and family members is absolutely free for life! The Education Plan (educators) is $0.99 per month per child, and educators can try Storypark first for a free thirty-day trial (no credit card info needed). Another small aspect that I really like is that parents can choose to keep their child’s portfolio from school or childcare once the child has left the centre, is not erased or deleted after a period of time like on most apps. Pictures from Storypark can also be used to create high-quality personalized photo books.

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As an educator, I really like Storypark it’s so easy to use and interact with! It would certainly make the documentation process a lot more enjoyable as there is so much interaction and involvement happening with the families, which can be much harder to achieve with traditional, non-digital methods of documentation. As an aunt to a preschooler living across the continent, I would absolutely love it if her family used Storypark–this is the app long distance relative have dreamed of.

(Image credits: Storypark)

apps

HiMama Childcare App

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A few weeks ago, Steven Bonnay, a representative from HiMama came to my Children & Technology course and introduced us to an app called HiMama. Now, I have been in many childcare centers – five out of my six field placement across George Brown College and Ryerson University took place in childcare and Early Learning centers all over Toronto – and not once was it suggested that there was another way to do the piles of necessary documentation any other way but the traditional paper and pencil method that just takes away so much time from interacting with the children. So to me, an app like HiMama is nothing short of revolutionary – a real game changer especially for the up and coming generation of ECEs that are already so used to using technology in almost every other aspect of our lives. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to bridge it into our professional world, it is 2017, after all.

What HiMama does is provide early childhood educators with a user-friendly and accessible app to share information and memories with parents and caregivers, as well as record observations and documentations. It works by linking parents and educators together in real-time so parents can receive pictures, videos, and updates on their digital devices about their children’s day as it happens (feeding, sleeping, diapering, activities, and more). HiMama was specifically designed with the unique needs of a childcare center in mind, and this is evident in the engaging and easy to navigate interface that allows educators to do their daily documentations and observations quickly and efficiently.

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This really helps bridge the gap between what happens at home and what happens in childcare, as well as foster stronger relationships between parents and educators. When there’s a lot of paperwork involved, some things can (and do) fall through the cracks sometimes in all the hectic hustle and bustle of pick-ups and drop-offs, but I think HiMama works to both empower educators and help them become more accountable at the same time.

For more information on how HiMama works, please see: https://www.himama.com/childcare/how-it-works

To schedule a free 15 minute demo for centers: https://www.himama.com/childcare/contact_us

(Image credits: HiMama)

Resources

Resources for Families

As an early childhood studies student, one thing that has always been emphasized throughout my courses and placements is the importance of including and supporting families in my practice. To that end, I thought I would share some of the websites and resources that I think parents might find helpful in understanding and navigating digital technology within the context of their children.

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  1. Raising Digital Natives: a website by Dr. Devorah Heitner especially focused on providing advice to parents and educators on how to help children thrive in a digital world. There are dozens of interesting and informative articles such as Technology as a Distraction: Raising Kids in the Digital Age, Conflict Resolution for Digital Natives, and Digital Citizenship for Kids Starts with Mentorship. Dr. Heitner has also done a TEDx Talk entitled The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native.
  2. Common Sense Media: Common Sense is an independent nonprofit organization with the aim of helping kids thrive in a world of media and digital technology. Highlights from Common Sense Media include Parent’s Corner, featuring answer guides to questions such as “How can I use media to teach my kid empathy?” and “What age should my kid be before I let them use social media?“. Other resources are the Reviews section for age-appropriate media, and the Family Guides to help understand the latest trends in schools.
  3. PBS Parents – Children and Media: a section of the PBS website devoted to providing parents with tips and strategies for raising children in a digital age. Sections include guides across different ages on television and movies, video games, computers, and even advertising. There is also a milestone section for age-by-age tips, starting from ages three to eighteen, to help children get the most out of digital technology usage.

This is just a starting point, and there is definitely more interactive ways educators can provide resources to parents and engage with them, such as after-school workshops, seminars, or even a newsletter.

What are some of your favorite resources for parents on digital technology?

(Image credit: Common Sense Media)

Resources, TECH WITH KIDS

Using digital technology with young children

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Digital technology is everywhere these days, in schools, in childcare settings, and especially at home. Laptops, cell phones, tablets are part of everyday life and made easily accessible to children. I have seen several strollers on the TTC (the subway) that come equipped with an attachment or media pocket, similar to this one sold on Amazon UK. I’ve known children younger than two years old that are able to recognize and select the Netflix app, scroll through the images, and select what they want to watch. Current research has shown that young children have an almost universal exposure to digital technology, with many having their own digital devices by the time that they are four years old (Kabali, Irigoyen, Nunez-Davis, Budacki, Mohanty, Leister, Bonner, 2015).

Most people have heard the saying, “everything in moderation,” which of course applies here as well. Haughton, Aiken, and Cheevers (2015) found that while passive screen time can have negative effects on children’s developing cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical abilities, interactive screen time can have a positive impact on older children (ages 3 and up). Digital devices and interactive technology are not going anywhere, so an important aspect to focus on is how parents and families can reap the best benefits from it.

3 Ways to Use Digital Technology in a Meaningful Way 

  1. Engaging with children through pictures and videos – there are many elements at play here; some children get excited just seeing themselves, whereas other children especially love to hear their voices and recording themselves singing. I know friends of mine with young children that enjoy using the animal filters on SnapChat to add another level of fantasy to the stories they come up for their little ones. Another idea is to give children the option to take their own photos and videos and see what they decide is worth capturing. It’s fascinating to see what they choose to focus on.
  2. Long distance communication – digital technology is an excellent way to foster relationships and keep in touch with family members who might be living far away. WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, and FaceTime are great apps for phone calls and video chats!
  3. Educational apps/websites that are actually educational – an app like Duolingo (comes in both app and website interface) is great for helping teach a second language; Meet the Insects: Forest Edition and Toca Nature are two apps that stimulate children’s curiosity and imagination; Hopscotch and Move the Turtle are specifically designed to help children develop coding skills. I would also like to make special mention of the PECS Phase III app for parents that may be interested. It’s an app designed to look like a PECS communication book for teaching picture discrimination; it does not replace the PECS book but serves as an aid to practice discrimination techniques and strategies within a single lesson.

(Image credit: me via Netflix)