How to use technology to support development
No matter how hard we try to avoid it, technology is and always will be, a significant part of our children’s lives. The question is, how can we use it to benefit them and support their development.
Technology that is connected to what children already know, or what they are learning, leads to a greater motivation to challenge themselves and use self-direction. This article will focus on how technology can be used as a tool to help build on your child’s development by reducing anxiety through behavior modeling, improving language and cognitive development, and teaching cause and effect.
Supporting positive behaviors and reducing anxiety
One of my favorite ways to use technology in an interactive fashion is to use videos to model behavior. Videos are a great tool to help teach a skill, prepare your little guy or gal for a new situation or experience, or to show them how to respond to any number of social scenarios. There are countless videos on sites like YouTube, that can help you model behavior. For example, if it is your child’s first visit to the dentist you could watch a brief video of a dentist visit, and talk about what they can expect. This may help lower your child’s anxiety about a new experience. Another example is to model “sharing” – instead of taking the toy, help your child understand what words they can use to share with others.
While both of these scenarios can be taught and modeled without technology, sometimes the visual aid can be a great support—and seeing someone else’s experience can help reinforce the lesson. A fun way to potentially add more excitement and interest into these exercises is to record your child acting out the new skill or scenario, and then play it back for them. This can be a great way to not only practice learning a new skill, but also encourage “self-reflecting” on that new skill. Plus, most children love watching themselves, which helps to build self-confidence!
Language and Cognitive Development
Many mobile apps and computer programs are available that have been designed specifically to support language and cognitive development in young children. There is no shortage of these kinds of apps, so be sure to search for apps that support the concepts you are trying to introduce. For example, if you have been learning and talking about shapes, find apps around matching shapes, identifying shapes, or tracing shapes. This will reinforce the concepts they are learning, make them feel more motivated to challenge themselves, and will give confidence to their skills they are learning. A great resource for a list of age-appropriate apps can be found on the Best Apps for Kids. When you find a new app, be sure to play and explore the new concepts together.
Cause and effect
When you think of “technology,” you certainly don’t think of battery-operated toys that light up and make noise. In fact, these toys might be considered “low tech” these days. However, they are great for teaching cause and effect which is a critical component of child development. Interacting with toys that produce an immediate visual or auditory response can help reinforce the cause and effect concept. Many of these toys can be great for reiterating basic educational concepts such as colors, shapes, numbers, and letters.
However, as with anything technology-related, these kinds of toys should be used in moderation, and not at the expense of time spent with non-battery operated toys like blocks, cars, dolls, figurines, or balls—all of which are vital in the development of imagination and critical thinking.
Incorporating technology in your life
As most parents, my husband and I find technology can be valuable entertainment to our two boys when traveling; or to provide the necessary level of distraction to get through an unpleasant scenario, like a visit to the doctor. These are perfect times to let children explore technology independently with age appropriate apps. In between these kinds of situations, we have found that keeping extra devices, like tablets, put away and out of reach can help maintain the exclusivity of their use. And for the most part, this helps our children understand that use of the tablet is a privilege that requires good behavior and the ability to voluntarily stop playing when asked to do so.
A fun way we use technology in our household is streaming different children’s songs. Again, YouTube is a great resource for this kind of activity. We watch the songs, learn the actions/dance moves, and have dance parties. These types of exercises encourage children to come out of their “shell” by imitating what they see. This can also be a great language development activity; and, after a few times incorporating this type of play, don’t be surprised to find your children singing the songs and doing the actions even when the videos/songs aren’t playing.
By allowing your children to explore technology in a controlled environment you are setting them up for success in academics, their careers, and life. However, we still need to remember that having an appropriate balance is critical to their early developmental success. We, as parents, must make sure we still let our kids explore the world for themselves with all of their five senses.