When I was pregnant with Laurel, there were lots of things I worried about. I was convinced that vaccinations and formula would irrevocably damage my baby. And I definitely wasn't going to let her watch tv until she was 5. Or maybe never. Our pediatrician, a wise and unflappable man, made some very good arguments about what the research actually tells us about vaccines, and was simultaneously supportive of breastfeeding while staying on top of our slow-to-gain-weight babies. But mostly, he taught me what to get worried about and what to let go.
My kids watch tv, and despite my original ideas about children's television, I'm actually rather impressed by some of the programming available. Marko is definitely learning the alphabet from Superwhy. Martha Speaks has a great approach to robust vocabulary instruction...pretty much what I learned in grad school! Wild Kratts frames each episode with a focus on an animal's unique adaptations so it's not just random facts about animals. And we are also pretty fond of the David Attenborough narrated nature programs as something the entire family will watch together, although nature can be shockingly harsh sometimes.
So, tv isn't killing my kids after all, and it was time to let them - well Laurel anyway - get a tablet. We bought her a Kindle Fire for her birthday and she really, really loves it. A lot. I resisted this purchase for a while, but then I thought about the fact that in a few short years we are going to have to give our kids cellphones and better to build good habits and ingrain some internet safety practices while we have more control.
What I like about the Kindle Fire is that you can create different profiles and the parental controls are pretty easy to use. I've been browsing the amazon app store for free stuff and the selection of ebooks and audiobooks that are available from the library's collection. I do the downloading and then approve which content she can see from her profile. So far, I like Monkey Word School Adventure and Starfall and everything else I looked at was utter crap. These apps are definitely supporting the kindergarten standards she's learning in school. It's basically worksheets that provide immediate feedback and saves me the bother and bore of drilling her on sight words and phonics patterns. I'm still figuring out the Overdrive app for ebooks and audiobooks, but it's definitely better than borrowing those little PlayAway things from the library.
But beyond using the Kindle to read and listen to books and practice basic skills, I want Laurel to be able to use technology the way M and I do...to learn about things that interest us and solve problems we face in daily life (like what to do with the 85 pounds of saurkraut sitting on my kitchen counter right now!). I also use the internet to stay in touch with faraway friends and family, and to share my thoughts with the world (as I am doing on this blog post). But once you open up access to an internet browser, you are entering this whole other world. We're still trying to figure out how to give Laurel some freedom to use these tools, but still monitor what's going on with them. Because she's 6, after all. She really likes taking a video of herself talking and I think it would be cool for her to do a little podcast. She checks the weather app and I downloaded the school lunch menu so that she can check that independently.
I'm still a big fan of old-fashioned, paper books and always will be. Especially for little kids. When I watch Marko and Laurel page through the National Geographic encyclopedias we have, I can see that they are interacting with the information in a way that is very different than screen based information. And I get a special thrill from how worn and soft the pages are of our favorite books. But there's definitely room for both.