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Tempering Technology

A techie Christmas gift provides games and learning for young children.

One of the defining features of our home is the absence of a television. My husband and I are not avid TV watchers, although we do subscribe to Netflix.

This has been a conscious decision on our part. We prefer interacting with actual human beings, reading books, drawing, painting, playing outside, or letting our imaginations run wild, rather than zone out in front of the tube.

About a month ago I was surprised to find our five-year-old hop on our family’s computer, launch Internet Explorer, click on the Netflix icon on the favorites bar, select the "Just for Kids" tab on the Netflix homepage and begin scrolling through various cartoons. In a matter of a few seconds, she had started up an episode of Dinosaur Train and set it to full-screen mode.

Technology is certainly an integral part of our lives. We exclusively use cell phones (no landline at our house). We surf the web to check the weather, stay current with news, write emails, read blogs and connect with friends and family on Facebook. There is almost always music playing from one of our iPods. And of course, we occasionally stream movies and cartoons on Netflix.

Nevertheless, our daughter’s ability with our computer got me thinking. I certainly wanted to encourage my daughter’s interest in technology, but also realized we needed to set age-appropriate rules and parameters.

For Christmas, I had the idea of giving our daughters (ages five and three) Leapster Explorers. To me, Leapsters are kind of like a new-age, educational Game Boy. With this handheld device, our girls play games that teach reading, writing, basic math, foreign languages and problem solving.

So far the Leapsters have been a hit. Our five-year-old is constantly bringing it over to me. She eagerly shows me how she’s completed a level, or asks me what else she can do to make her virtual pet kitty happy. And I've been impressed with how easy it is for our three-year-old to use.

Already I've noticed a dramatic improvement in our oldest daughter’s phonics skills. Previously she had memorized several words by sight, but learning to read new words was always a major stumbling block. Now, she is able to sound out small words that she doesn’t immediately recognize.

Although the Leapsters are geared for kids, I am still adamant about setting limits. I purposely keep them in a high kitchen cabinet rather than with the rest of their toys. My husband and I keep tabs on the amount of time they are allowed to play based on their behavior. They are a privilege for the girls to use.

While my husband is relieved that his iPhone is no longer the coveted “toy” among our girls, I have to admit gaming isn’t all bad.

What’s your take on technology at home? Do you set limits with children? Why or why not?

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Heather in Caledonia January 05, 2012 at 11:13 PM
We got rid of our cable subscription a couple of years ago and hooked up our antenna. It was cheaper to get Netflix instead and we've been happy with that. I rarely watch broadcast TV - it's shows or movies on Netflix in the evening when I have time. We do an online school, so we usually just use the computers for working (I'm on here to check the news and Facebook.) The boys like to watch shows on Netflix during "recess" and they like playing games on the Wii when it's too cold to go outside. I like technology, but I think too much of anything is no good. They have to have "time off" if they've been watching too much TV or playing on the Wii for a long time. It's nice to see that my oldest (he's 8) usually prefers to make things and play Offline. :) My 5 year old is still in love with the Wii, but I think he'll outgrow it as his world continues to expand. Glad to hear the Leapster was helpful with learning. We've found a number of sites over the years that have fun games to help with learning things like spelling and multiplication tables.Wish we had some of that back when I was trying to learn those things! :)
Janine Anderson January 06, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Our 4-year-old son got a Leapster Explorer for Christmas. I like how if I connect it to the computer regularly, I can check and see exactly how much time he's spending on it -- and what he's doing when he's using it. I pay attention to how much TV he watches, and it's a new thing to watch his screen time on that, too.
Chris Larsen January 06, 2012 at 07:29 PM
I am a tech junkie. It's like crack. Give me the latest Blackberry (or a new Bass guitar) and I'm a happy guy......
Victor Drover January 09, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Nice article. As most media is moving towards digital streaming and is thus likely to be available on the PC, how would u advise regulating that?

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