Do you feel pressured to introduce gadgets to your child? Learn why technology isn’t necessary for kids to learn, even in these modern times.
“And this here is our computer room,” the preschool director showed our tour group. “Here’s where they learn how to use the computer, using learning apps and video games.”
Four computers lined the wall with kids toying with mice and teachers guiding them through their letters and numbers. From the director’s tone of voice, I assumed I was supposed to be impressed, except… I wasn’t.
I’m not a fan of using computers or laptops in a preschool, and I don’t think they’re all that necessary even during the early childhood years.
Seems preposterous to say these days, more so coming from someone who relies on digital technology for a living.
What’s the deal, then? When every child seems to have a smartphone and iPad, why do I keep these gadgets away from my own?
Why technology isn’t necessary for kids to learn
I don’t think technology is evil. Many of us can highlight why it’s been good for kids, and especially necessary with remote learning.
Experts also have their recommendations for age-appropriate screen time, so I won’t get into when and how much would be all right. And I won’t even talk about the benefits for or warnings against screen time for kids. You’ll find countless research pointing to either argument.
Instead, this is my case for why the use of technology isn’t necessary for kids as a learning or training tool:
1. Kids learn the same principles in other ways
One of the selling points of tech gadgets is that they’re teaching tools. For instance, my son owned a toy that lit up to show you how to trace your letters and numbers. A fun activity for kids, I’m sure, since they hear music and see lights.
But is it necessary? He learned his letters and numbers through more traditional ways: reading, playing with alphabet magnets, pointing them out everywhere we went.
What about technology use for math games and lessons that teach kids how to add and subtract? Your child can learn the same skills by counting the apples in your fruit bowl or solving math worksheets.
My twins are learning multiplication, but they’ve managed to advance beyond their level without hopping on a single app.
And studies have found that the benefits of digital devices and videos geared toward infants and young toddlers don’t do much. Instead, they actually worsen a child’s development. Time magazine writes:
“‘Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn,’ says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. ‘They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.'”
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2. The learning curve isn’t as steep as we assume
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Worried that your child will fall behind her peers because she hasn’t been fiddling with tablets and computers?
Don’t. One child’s ability to operate a tablet at six-years-old doesn’t determine her success later in life, nor does it give her an extra edge. The learning curve of digital literacy isn’t as steep as we think. In other words, yes, it’s important for kids to learn how to use technology, but it won’t take them forever to do so.
In fact, top employees in Silicon Valley— people who’d know the benefits of technology—aren’t sending their kids to high-tech schools.
Instead, their kids attend schools that promote simple tools—you know, paper, pencils, blocks. Not until eighth grade do their kids hop on to the computer and begin learning its uses.
And it seems these parents are on to something. In The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got There, Amanda Ripley analyzed three top-performing countries—Finland, South Korea, and Poland. What did she notice about their classrooms?
They didn’t have fancy overhead monitors or computers to do schoolwork—items many of us assume would bolster learning. Instead, they had basic desks and chairs, a chalkboard, and books—they weren’t even allowed to use a calculator.
3. Kids are set apart by their ability to think…
…and not on their technical know-how.
Technology boasts benefits like access to information and educational entertainment. But what’s more important is a child’s comprehension of problems and her ability to solve them. The creativity to think of new products and ideas.
Technology will be the way of life for our kids, from typing code to social media use as older children. They’ll need a few years of toying with technology so that they aren’t learning how to search the internet as teenagers. Technology will continue to play a huge role making our lives easier and more seamless.
But what’s more important are the gears turning in a person’s mind. The ability to spot problems and create code for apps that will solve them. Learning how to read people and produce products that will resonate with them.
These are skills even those who rely on technology for their living can’t be taught on websites or digital media. These skills are better mastered through real-life problem solving and social interactions.
How to use technology
Back to my first point that technology isn’t evil: it’s not. I actually love technology. And while my kids have limits on screen time and don’t own cell phones or tablets, technology isn’t my enemy.
But I do think we need to use it mindfully. For instance,
- Don’t use technology as a reward. I’m not a big fan of rewards, but if you must, stick to something besides technology. Otherwise, you’ll end up glamorizing it more than is needed. Stick to rewards you want your child to value, such as an outing to a restaurant or a special book.
- Use your own gadgets when the kids are asleep. Kids model us, so when they see us typing away on our computers all day long or swiping our phones through dinner conversations, they’ll follow suit. Worse, they can throw your tech habits back at you when you’re trying to curb their usage (“But mom, you’re always on the computer!”).
- Set limits. Technology is fine, but do set limits on how long and in what ways your child can use it. Want to watch a movie but don’t want him to sit in front of the TV for two hours? Break it up into 30-minute segments. Does he want to play a game on the computer? Determine a set amount of time he can play so he knows when to stop.
- Engage with your child while they’re using the gadgets. Yes, television has been my saving grace, giving me 30 minutes of uninterrupted time while they watch a television show. But when possible, engage with your child while he’s using a gadget. Maybe it’s playing a computer game with him, or talking about the show he’s watching on television. Technology can be a medium for yet another engaging activity between the two of you.
- Use common sense. You’ll know when your child has been using technology too much. Maybe you haven’t had a decent conversation with him all day, or he’s mimicking values you may not approve of. That’s when you know to cut back on screen time and prioritize outdoor time and “real life” learning tools.
Do you feel pressured to buy your child a tablet loaded with educational apps? Don’t. While technology has benefits, what’s more important is her ability to problem-solve and think.
Because really, parents can make learning just as fun—if not more so—than any app. You know your child better than any gadget and can find creative ways to teach math or comprehend a story.
These are time-tested ways to encourage learning—no downloads necessary.
Get more tips:
- How to Enjoy a Restaurant with Kids — Without Screens or Snacks
- What Every Kindergartener Should Know
- Small Habits, Big Results: 8 Long Term Benefits of Reading to Your Child
- How to Raise a Bright Child
- Raising College Bound Kids (Because It’s Never Too Early to Start!)
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