I have a three-year-old mate, Ned – a friend’s son, who, like most digital natives doesn’t need my help with operating his tablet, and gets on with the job of exploring with Dora, while I get on with exploring ways to make kale more enticing to a kid.
Recently, during a rather robust (him) and impatient (me) discussion on whether Dora would get more exploring done if she used Google Maps, I was delighted to discover that I could teach him something about technology.
As a result, our catch-ups now start with Ned choosing a new place to see on Google on my smartphone. He loves that he’s able to explore like Dora and travel the world (New York and Brisbane are favourites). One day he asked if I could put Google Maps on his tablet. My answer was ‘no.’ He’s not my child – it’s the same reason as I don’t feed him food that’s on his mum’s ‘no’ list.
While children might not fully grasp how technology is connecting them to the world, the fact is that it is. And that’s where us grown-ups have the responsibility to safely introduce them to technology that teaches them how to connect, but is still fun.
Here’s some tech that I’ve found that’s not only fun, but also helping children learn and connect with those around them.
In my day, it used to be that Superman saved the planet. Today children’s programming has wonders like the ABC Kids series, Dirtgirl, a overall clad heroine with pigtails who gets up to her eyeballs in grubby fun, along with her mate Scrapboy and other friends. It’s addictive and an inspired way to teach children about rubbish, worms and the earth with songs kids love.The website allows children to explore gardens, become part of the community and a shop where a grown up can buy seeds for the kids to plant in their own garden.
Another wonderful and educational series is the Octonauts. This animated TV series is a huge favourite of parents and children alike. The premise is completely silly – a team of quirky and courageous undersea adventurers ready to dive into action in their mini submarines. Their mission is to protect the ocean, and in turn teach children that it’s their responsibility to as well. Perfect for those weekends away when you’re the overnight host of a three-year-old who won’t sleep and another reason to have Mobile Foxtel.
Kids love animals. Whether it”s The Penguins of Madagascar, frogs, dogs, cats or lions, the fact is animals amaze them. So it’s great to see apps such as Wonder Zoo- Animal Rescue teaching children how animal conservation works and why it’s important.
A skill-based game, Wonder Zoo lets kids head out on safari to rescue animals from a poacher which they bring to a zoo they build and decorate with plants. The animals grow stronger with the help of the children and the kids collect rewards. I haven’t mastered this one yet, but am determined to have a unicorn and a dinosaur in my zoo.
Another great app is National Geographic’s Look & Learn: Animal Alphabet. Preschoolers can learn and play through six games featuring more than 60 different animals, photographs, fun animal facts, engaging sound effects, and more. It helps them recognise each letter of the alphabet by association with animals, listen to letter sounds and learn to write. There is also a cool mask maker where they can take a photo and add a funny animal mask to their own pic.
Available for Android and iOS on smartphones and tablets.
This clever design stimulates the feeling of a hug with laterally applied air pressure to calm children when they are feeling stressed or anxious and you’re not there. The amount of pressure is adjustable, depending on the wearer’s needs.
The technology comes with an app controlled by a smartphone which allows parents and carers to program the hugs and also analyse the data, so they can see what’s causing the stress and when.
Developed in Singapore, by start-up company, T.Ware, the T.Jacket was designed to help children (and adults) with sensory processing difficulties, such as Autism, and is being widely used by occupational therapists and organisations such as Project Autism Australia.
Personally I love this one. I showed the T.Jacket to Ned who wants us both to get one so he can hug me when he’s not around and I get grumpy at work.
In case you’ve not heard, coding is the new literacy and something all digital natives should be encouraged to master. While Code Club Australia is set up for children aged nine and over, younger children can get a head start learning code with this awesome app, Scratch Jr.
Inspired by the popular Scratch programming language, ScratchJr, allows young children (ages 5-7) to program their own interactive stories and games, and in the process learn to solve problems, design projects and express themselves creatively. The app is simple to use – allowing them to snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Kids can add their own voices and sounds and even insert photos of themselves.
Available for Android and iOS.
Back in the ’90s I went to Space Camp as part of a media junket and got to live out my childhood dream of going into space. We experienced the awesomeness (and generosity) of NASA, including what it’s like to be on a space shuttle with zero gravity. We ate space food (yuk), and even got to do a ‘space walk.’
In Australia we now have RoboCamps . These are both fun and educational – an innovative and immersive way to engage tech curious kids (of all ages) in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Little wonder companies such as Lego are sponsors. The camps are run by FIRST Australia, part of the largest robotics for sport organisation in the world.
At this stage, they are only run out of Macquarie University, Sydney, but with school holidays coming up, this could be a great option for parents.
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