It’s a familiar concern for many parents: is my child’s use of technology supporting or undermining their learning and development? There are many opinions on this subject, but whether you like them or loathe them, mobile phones, iPads and TV screens are here to stay, so how can we ensure our children’s exposure to tech results in a positive experience?
Even tech experts are grappling with this issue, with even Bill Gates admitting he has limited technology use in his home, and waited until his children were 14 years old before they received their first phone. According to Ofcom, by the time children are three years old, 96 per cent are watching TV for 15 hours a week, 40 per cent are playing games for 6 hours a week and 53 per cent go online for 8 hours a week.
However, research suggests that it’s not how long you spend in front of the screen, it’s the way that you use devices with your children that’s most important. After interviewing 20,000 parents and carers, academics at the University of Oxford concluded that ‘limiting children’s digital device use is not necessarily beneficial for wellbeing.’ Instead, the report recommended a focus on making sure that the material young people view is high-quality content which helps them to learn and engage with our world.
To support your children’s education at home, therefore, you should take time to use technology with them, building up their knowledge of education apps and websites as well as showing an enthusiasm for learning together. You’ll find a wealth of materials available, including YouTube Kids, Quick Math and Science360 – created by the National Science Foundation for tablet users. There are apps for all ages, from Alphabet Blocks to Doodle Maths and BBC Resources. Whatever your child is interested in, build on this passion outside of the classroom by directing them towards appropriate resources.
Learning through technology can also happen outdoors. When your child is learning to navigate, they can use the OS Maps app which includes a handy augmented reality feature to help them visualise the places they’re searching for. Thanks to apps created by organisations like the Woodland Trust, it’s now possible to identify trees and flowers via your phone. By using cameras to take pictures and videos, they’ll be learning how to tell stories and interact with nature in a new way.
Recently Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards in England, recommended banning smartphones from schools and said that extensive time spent on the internet eats into time spent talking to friends, parents and exercising. In reality, many schools set homework tasks which rely on access to a computer, and like many workplaces, technology has become an integral part of the way we learn. Increasingly, educational apps are being used to bridge the gap between home and school for the better.
In America, one in six families use ClassDojo, an app built to connect teachers, parents and students and allow them to track progress made in the classroom. Through photos, videos and messages, parents can see what their children have been working on, and how best to support them with continued learning at home. The company behind the app has just raised $35 million from investors to take the product global and develop ‘Beyond School’ – a paid-for app that gives parents access to educational content for their families at home.
Technology can also create a level playing field when it comes to accessing resources. In a bid to use our screens for good, families from disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK are being given free access to children’s educational apps. Alongside this, the Department for Education is trailing four new programmes, including a project called Tips by Text – where more than 2,700 parents in the North East will be sent texts to encourage activities developing literacy, numeracy and emotional skills.
That said, there also needs to be some boundaries when it comes to the times and places each family member use technology. According to Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, children should not be able to use electronic devices during mealtimes or in their bedrooms. By setting these boundaries, parents can encourage time spent interacting with family members, keep an eye on excessive technology use and combat screen time before bedtime which could lead to poor quality of sleep, and have a knock-on effect the next day when children need to concentrate in the classroom.
As with all things, the key is to aim for a balanced approach. It’s about recognising the advantages of technology when it comes to home education, but also making sure that your child is using their time well on these devices. Research shows that 36 per cent of parents feel as though they spend too much time with their phone. So, the best thing parents can do is to be a role-model themselves and ensure they are using technology in the right way. This extends into the classroom too, teachers should understand how to make the most of the digital tools they have available to them. In doing that, you create a fun and interactive means of learning for young people, leading to more engaging and rewarding activities as a result.
If you want to make the most of technology to support children’s learning, we are here to discuss the possibilities of apps, websites and digital processes and help you achieve your goals. Get in touch with a member of the team today by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us on 01225 220155.