11 Apr 2014

Resisting the urge to resist technology as a learning tool

Recently my eldest child saved her money and bought herself an ipad. At first it was a big decision for us as parents to give her permission for such a large purchase and of course there were the alarm bells going off about how 'educational' and useful it would be.
We then had to think about the rules for use and how often she should be allowed to use the device.
We also questioned whether she was learning on the ipad or if she was just playing and how much time she should be 'learning' or 'playing' online.
It is a dilemma facing many parents now with these new tools that were not around during our own childhood. We can be quick to assume that if children are using these devices that they are not thinking for themselves, that the game is doing the thinking for them and that they are not really learning. They are just shutting themselves away from the family and participation in other, more useful activities.

However, I've been proven wrong. I have had to broaden my knowledge and perspective on how these new devices are actually helping my children to learn, to have conversations around the learning and how their creative minds are actually enhanced by the experience.
I watch as my children crowd around the tablet to discuss and ask questions of each other about the village that one of them has created on Minecraft. I recall with them that I too created villages as a child, playing solo, using old blocks of wood from a discarded pile at the back of the house. I made roads in the dirt and used matchbox cars and sticks for fences to keep the animals in. Minecraft is the same concept, only it can be done indoors and is safe from damage or the weather. Admittedly it's not quite the same and is less hands on, but still provides a creative template for exploration or inventing a whole village or community from scratch.

My son enjoys the Jurassic Park game and he and I delight in evolving new dinosaurs and learning about their names, habits and building the park to entice more visitors. He then uses his toy dinosaurs and lego pieces to create a park in his bedroom, calling them all by their proper names and creating enclosures to suit the herbivores and carnivores. He has also borrowed countless numbers of books about dinosaurs from the library, so the app game has peaked his and also my interest in anything to do with these prehistoric and amazing creatures. We also have wonderful conversations about the animals that have evolved from the dinosaurs and which ones we think are the most like dinosaurs today.
I see it as a fun, new and interesting way to teach children about the dinosaurs and engage with each other in fun activities that also provide learning experiences.
One of my children has also taught herself how to create animations, using an app and Lego characters and vehicles to develop mini stories and illustrations that she has created from scratch.

As I watch all of this unfold, I realise that instead of resisting the technology and its uses, I need to embrace it and learn about it so that I too can be engaged in their experiences and encourage this learning as a part of their growth. They were born into this era where technology is to be explored, discovered and stretched to the limit. They are demanding that games and learning tools be more sophisticated and challenging and through these devices, they are actually constantly testing themselves and pushing themselves to do well.
It is a form of self led learning and is teaching them how to make decisions and that they need to excel to get to the next level. Something that is sometimes lacking in other areas of their education. They make mistakes on these games and devices but they learn to keep going to get to the next level.
I have used this analogy once or twice when they have made mistakes in other areas and have related this experience back to them so they understand it is just the same. You make mistakes so you can do better next time or push yourself to do better.

So, instead of resisting technology, there are many benefits for children and parents to learn and enjoy the fun side of learning. Yes, it is still a good idea for them to have limits on use of the devices so it allows for other types of learning and playing, but it should also be seen as an important part of their learning. I love that I am learning as well from my favourite teachers, my children.

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