We use or limit our introduction of technology at home based on our own experiences and comfort with it. Reality is, our kids are growing up in a techno-savvy age. What technology is appropriate for our children? We’ll try to answer that question as well as when and how to use it and what benefits there are to be had from it.
I’m not here to tell you your 6th grader needs a blackberry smartphone to keep up with society. I’m also not saying that keeping up with society is the goal either! But, for every Christian parent, relating to and being able to reach their generation (Acts 13:36) should be a goal for their children. So how do we overcome our own feelings about technology enough to help our children to utilize it to their benefit and to God’s glory? Technology in and of itself is not evil. Just like everything else it is sin and misuse that corrupts. Now, I personally am a techie. I don’t run out and get all the latest gear (can’t afford to, honestly) but I do try to keep up and enjoy doing so. So, just what technology is appropriate? At the very least, kids need to be exposed to computers. They will have a really hard time thriving in our culture if they aren’t.
I started my kids on little programs like Jump-Start Reading when they were about three years old. We didn’t do it daily, just every once in a while when they’d ask or I thought of it. Programs like that have the kids doing matching, patterning, letter-recognition and the like and in terms of technology, help with the eye-hand coordination of using the mouse. Kids are ready for this at different ages. If you try it at three and it’s just NOT happening, turn it off and try it again at four. There’s no rush. Avoid it when they’re little altogether if you prefer. But, by six, I think it’s a good idea for a kid to get some level of comfort with a computer. After a child knows his/her letters and is learning to read and spell it’s a good time to introduce basic keyboarding. We tried some free online programs first. Then we had Mavis Beacon. It was alright and did the job. The kids really enjoyed Typing Tutor for Kids though. Starting in second grade I had them do it around 10 minutes a day a few days a week. Once they master “home row”, they can really take off. Perhaps you think second grade is too early, but the skill of keyboarding will become as intuitive as writing- and that is a GOOD thing! You want it to be easily incorporated into their skill-set, not become a difficult task to tackle.
If you are teaching more than one child at home, technology can be an excellent assistant teacher. I’m not talking full-time, I’m talking duplicating yourself and helping your children to gain some independence. I’ve used Typing Tutor, Timez Attack (multiplication practice), and Rosetta Stone Spanish as regular parts of our day- usually for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time. I’ve also found Time4Learning.com to be an excellent helper for younger children. Their phonics program is excellent. Math up to multiplication is pretty good, too. A great thing about Time4Learning in our family was that the child next in line would sit and watch (and learn a ton, too!). Again, I’m not suggesting hours- the lesson timer was never set for more than 20 minutes. This year my third grader also tried out a Teaching Textbook for math part of the year. We found her math went much faster when she did it on the computer and was a little more “pain-free”. If you have a child (above 3rd grade) who struggles at all with math, I would recommend giving Teaching Textbooks a try. (If your child is younger than 3rd grade and struggling, be sure that whatever you’re using you supplement with lots of hands-on materials, called manipulative, to keep math concrete.) The quality of Teaching Textbooks is excellent, review is built in, and every concept is reinforced again and again. A little bit of exposure and use of technology starting at a reasonably young age will develop a natural ease with machines that will facilitate their being useful to your student as they progress.
All the programs I’ve recommended except for Time4Learning are software programs that are installed onto your computer which means your child does not need to be online to use them. I can send the kids to our computer to use them without too much oversight. A link on the desktop will make access to Time4Learning or other online sites of your choosing easier without the need for typing and probable errors. I am an advocate of CAUTION when having kids use the internet. A computer filter is highly recommended and there are many available. Mostly, follow the standard precautions of keeping the computer in a family area and be in the room when they’re online. My children are not allowed to use the computer without my express permission. They know that if they do, the privilege will be gone (at least for a while). In my mind, it’s not an area to mess around.
Have a frank conversation in your family and evaluate your comfort with technology. Assess the role it plays in your school. Is it proportional to your values? Is it being used wisely? Are safeguards in place? If you lean to the fearful side, find someone who is comfortable and experienced to help you take the next step. If you’ve been overly lenient and indulgent, reign it in and set up some guidelines. Whatever your choice, equip your kids to be a part of and reach the techno-savvy generation with which the Lord has surrounded them.