When I was a little girl, there was no such thing as Netflix. You just turned on the t.v. and hoped that something good was playing on the only two kids channels the ‘bunny ears’ would get you. We watched shows in ‘salt-and-pepper’ in a pinch. Or you took your entire weeks allowance and walked fifteen minutes to the nearest Blockbuster to rent one movie for the week. If I wanted to learn about something, I went to the library, and either looked at books on the subject or looked in the encyclopedia. Our family had an embarrassing Commodore 64, and my sisters and I fought over what now seems like very primitive games. When I think about the amount of technology and resources my kids have access to in comparison, it BLOWS MY MIND! And they have NO IDEA how lucky they are (even though I constantly tell them!), nor do they believe me about my vastly different childhood.
I go to very great lengths to create a balance for our family that involves playing outside, arts and crafts, life experiences and learning life skills such as cooking and chores, constructive play like role-play, play doh (and other sensory play), and of course reading. But I would be lying if I told you that I’m not grateful for the technology in our house (special thanks to my techy hubby!) and not just because it entertains my kids while I wash the dishes or cook dinner. I am grateful for the technology because there is a mind-boggling wealth of stimulating, creative, and educational content at our disposal these days and we make a point to make the best of the time our kids spend looking at a screen. The following is a list of ways that we ensure our kids are making good and productive use of this amazing age of technology:
1) Documentaries (Either on Netflix or purchased on occasion):
Our whole family loves documentaries about nature and science, but especially The Boy. He would quite happily sit watching them until the end of time (if I let him), but his favourite kind are the dinosaur ones. The Boy is OBSESSED with dinosaurs. Netflix has some awesome dino documentaries (especially if you have access to the American content) but we are willing to buy them sometimes as well to feed his thirst for knowledge and encourage his curiosity. ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ is one of our favourite dinosaur documentaries, check it out if you find dinosaurs as interesting as we do! But the rest of us watch amazing stuff on space, ocean creatures, wild animals, and geographical wonders of the world, National Geographic puts together some incredible footage! I DO NOT feel guilty when my kids sit enraptured by the amazing things in our universe!
2) Short animated films based on classic children’s books:
I am pretty excited about this one because I LOVE these authors, and their stories are part of the fabric of my childhood. If you haven’t caught wind of them yet, there are several short films made based on very beloved children’s books which I discovered on Netflix (not sure if they are still on there as the content on Netflix changes periodically but you can probably find them on YouTube in a pinch). The thing that is really exciting about all of these is that the animation is just like the illustrations I love and remember about these stories. ‘A Bunch of Munsch’ is an older one but still super fun and is a collection of stories based on Robert Munsch’s classic books and sure to inspire your child’s imagination. There is also a collection of stories about a neat character called ‘The Gruffalo’, by an author named Julia Donaldson, which have been made into incredible short animated films. I have a passionate love for these stories and the films and I strongly recommend them. The last short film I will mention is an adaptation of one of my favourite children’s book, by one of my favourite children’s authors, Eric Carle. ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ (and other stories) is fantastic and is slow-paced and calming if you are looking for something mellow. There are a whole host of other children’s-books-turned-film that you can find as well, but these are the ones we love. I will just mention one more that is actually feature length which I think is great, and thats the film based on a classic book by Maurice Sendak called ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (by the same title). It is a very moving story, but may be a little scary for very young viewers, so use discretion with this one.
3) Educational iPad apps:
My kids are very privileged, and have access to two iPads (although one of them is an older version and is very slow with the new software updates), and oh how they love them! But I make sure it is a treat when they get them and I definitely monitor what they are playing on them. There are an amazing number of super-fun and educational apps (most of which are completely free) that have made learning fun in our house. When I started teaching my kiddos letters and numbers as toddlers, I had a bunch of boring flashcards which they had zero interest in learning with. Since we have found some creative and fun ways to learn, they don’t even realize they’re doing it most days! There are apps for everything from letters and numbers, to reading and drawing. There are apps to teach kids about emotions, seasons, science and nature, gardening, and caring for a pet. I could go on. But our favourite app in recent days is one that parenting experts are actually recognizing as a game with a lot of learning potential, and that’s Minecraft. It involves creativity and strategy, and has taken the world by storm!
4) Educational websites on home computer:
I have come to terms with the fact that my kids will conduct research in a very different way than I did as a child. In the age of technology, not only will kids be able to access vast amounts of information through computers, it will be necessary for them to do so. And maybe its not such a bad thing… The articles on Wikipedia in the English language alone have over 2.6 billion words, which is over 100 times the size of the English Encyclopedia Britannica! The internet has resulted in an explosion of available research and information and while this presents the problem of having to find reliable sources, it is still pretty incredible to think what the next generation can accomplish with such a wealth of resources at their fingertips. So in an effort to prepare my kids for research on the internet, I allow them to play a selection of the multitude of kid-friendly and educational websites so they can get a feel for the mouse and keyboard. Some of our favourites are the Disney Junior and Treehouse websites, but National Geographic Kids is pretty neat too. And if they have a question that I can’t answer, we look it up!
There are some pretty amazing things that can be learned from a simple how-to video on YouTube, I have used it for everything from cake decorating to tuning a guitar. But there is also some super-fun stuff that my kids love and which has some educational qualities. I realized this when my kids started kindergarten because their teacher pulled up some awesome videos in the classroom on her smart board! My kids got pretty bored when I used flashcards to teach them letters and sounds, but they got right into it when they were singing a fun song and learning simultaneously! Our favourites are ‘Phonics Song 2’, ‘The Big Numbers Song’, ‘When You Subtract with a Pirate’, and ‘What do the Letters Say’, which is a fun phonics parody of our favourite fox song (you aren’t sick of it yet, are you?) And if your kiddies want to take a break from learning and sing some classic children’s songs, they are ALL ON YOUTUBE, complete with fun animated videos! My kids’ childhood would not be complete without learning all the adorable songs that I remember so fondly. And finally, if you have active little ones who need to get some gross motor movement out, the action songs on YouTube are pretty awesome! We don’t own a Wii, so we like the Wii videos people upload like ‘Dance with Dora’ (and Diego), but there are a bunch of other fun ones too, so get your dance shoes on!
6) Time limit on shows with no redeeming qualities:
My kids are getting a little older, and as much as I would rather they were watching something more wholesome on Disney Junior or Treehouse, they are starting to express an interest in the ‘big kid cartoons’ on Teletoon, and Nickelodeon. But my issue with most of the shows on the big kid channels is that they contain a lot of violence and potty humour, and the girl shows portray girls as dim-witted and superficial. I don’t like to deprive them of the shows that all their friends are talking about, but they are lucky to get ten minutes in before I’ve had enough of the squeaky voices and fart-jokes! We are privileged to have access to a variety of other fun ‘screen-time’ options that will be a more positive learning experience, so we limit the not-so-great content and encourage our kids to make the best use of their screen time.
In the grand scheme of things, it is always ideal for our family when we are doing something together that does not involve a screen. My kids are probably tired of hearing me say that too much screen time is bad for their eyes and brain (or that their brain will turn to mush), and as much as my kids grumble and groan when I turn it off, I’m fairly certain that they have way more fun building a blanket fort or splashing in puddles. Check back in for future posts about all our awesome adventures that DO NOT involve a screen!