Can Technology Make Your Kid a Better Student?

Family Matters on 10.13.11
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Photo: Laura St. John

We have survived the tears and drama of the first weeks of back-to-school chaos. But our work to prepare them for a successful school year is far from over: it's just beginning.

Do You Use Technology as a Babysitter?

Like a lot of moms, I am guilty of plugging my kids in just to grab a few extra minutes for myself. But studies show that when technology is used properly, it helps make our kids smarter. So how can it make our kids better at school this year? The answer is right inside our pocket.

Why Plug vs. Unplug?

Running a tech business for kids, technology is in my face all the time. I felt it was really important to try to unplug to help teach my kids essential skills. I bought colorful math and reading workbooks. I tried large fancy flash cards. We even got creative and made up a go-fish game with lettered 'fish' and a home-made pencil fishing rod.

The go-fish game was by far the most entertaining, even though the fishing rod quickly turned into a ninja sword. I moved on to star charts and a few bribes to the ice cream shop.

Then it literally -- and virtually -- clicked for me as I watched my son learn all his letters in about three weeks using an online game! It wasn't about me. It was about technology, and how it engaged his three learning senses (sight, hearing, and touch) that captivated him in a way that even my best teaching tricks could not.

Now my Kindergartener is the star of our local computer class, and he's typing faster than many grown-ups I know (sorry, Grandpa!).

Start Simple: Let Your Child Send a Text

Take out your smartphone, and let your child sound out the words to send a text message to Grandpa about something important -- like those new sneakers that light up, or that new fishing-rod-turned-ninja sword that mommy made especially for you.

Hopefully Grandpa has a text plan, a cell phone with large keys, and has been taught (probably by an older grandchild) how to use it. If Grandpa does not yet have a text plan, be sure to text someone else who's important to your child. It's a healthy tech habit to learn that all communications using technology should be meaningful.

Turn Tech Use into School Prep

If your child likes to tap, swipe, and press buttons -- my kid asks to use a laptop along with his cereal request each morning, like it's seriously part of the food order -- then check out these important skills your child can easily learn from using technology. I tried them with my 5 and 7 year old boys: no vanilla or mint chocolate chip required!

1. Letter Recognition

Letter Recognition is one of the most essential school skills that teachers evaluate throughout the early years. Your keyboard -- even the one on your phone or tablet -- mixes up all 26 letters, which just waiting for your kids to tap.

Take out your keyboard and turn it into a game. Find the letters A-Z and race your child that you're going to find the letter first. Now, play nice! Be sure to lead your child to success. Hover your pointer finger over the next letter - as if you're still looking for the key. Oh, where is that silly B key hiding? Your child's eye will go to where your finger is. Oh! You got it before me! Not only does this build confidence, you'll get some great giggles along the way.

If your child is just learning letters for the first time, turn it one notch easier. Point to the V key. Use silly, exaggerated facial expressions and shake your head in yes/no movements - is that the B (no) or is this the B (yes) - that lead your child proudly to the right answer. I've learned that it's a lot more fun for kids -- and a lot less frustrating for you -- when you accompany any verbal cue with silly facial and body movements. It helps young kids hear what you're saying

While you play these fun games, you increase other important school skills - following simple and multi-step directions and building their attention span as they reach for the goal.

Many parents scramble at 3rd and 4th grade, when kids need to do real research papers, but they can't type. Start keyboarding at the preschool ages, at the same time when kids are fisrt learning their letters, and your kids will be typing in no time.

2. Identifying Your First Name

Help! Where's my name tag? Where did my cubby go? Being able to identify your first name is an important school skill that's a major part of your child's everyday life outside your home.

Like finding one letter on the keyboard among all the other mixed up letters, it takes good visual discrimination skills to find your child's first name among all the other random kids' names. We actually make this task even more challenging for our kids by choosing 'creative' ways to spell our kids names these days.

All technology today has some form of a keyboard built in. Use it with your child to find the letters of your child's first name. The younger kids should at least know the beginning letter of their first name (K is for Kyle).

Kids are really cute when they see they spelled their own name; the end product is a bigger accomplishment than you'd expect. Plus, this skill is guaranteed to impress their teacher!

3. Beginning Sounds

Need more of a challenge? If your child knows letters already, then move on to reinforcing the s-s-sounds letters make (in fancy terms, phonemic awareness). You name a word (b-b-ball) and your child races you to find the letter B on the keyboard. Beginning sounds is another one that tops the list on school readiness skills.

All that swiping, clicking, and typing also builds the little muscles (dexterity and fine motor control) necessary for good handwriting.

A cool thing happens once your child masters the sounds. Stringing these sounds together, one letter at a time then forms a word, and voila! - your child starts reading!

...And you didn't even need an app for that!

 

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