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Tech for tots

Mixing technology and toddlers can be a complex issue. On one hand, there are those that worry about the effects of screens on critically-developing minds – saying that screentime for children, especially toddlers, should be severely limited, if not outright eliminated. Parents are concerned about how living in a world inundated with technology affects the development of their children. It was not so long ago, after all, when children used to play outside all day, riding bikes, having actual friends, playing sports, and getting into all sorts of adventures.

 /2016.mb.com.ph

/2016.mb.com.ph

Proponents of a #childhoodunplugged say that natural play brings a host of benefits for the child that technology cannot emulate. Children learn to grow into their bodies, enrich their imagination, learn how to properly interact with other kids, and enjoy their days without the need for expensive equipment or constant parental supervision. Children in the past expended their energies in physical play, and as such, their sensory needs were addressed without needing costly therapies.

On the other hand, early exposure to technology also provides certain advantages for your child. Studies have shown that proper use of technology encourages better hand-eye coordination, improvement of language skills, promotes cognitive development, nurtures higher capacity for visual attention, enhances social interaction skills (through collaboration with other children), increases motivation to complete tasks, fosters dynamic spatial skills, cultivates problem solving skills, expands horizons, and widens skills and talents (Digital Parenthood, August 2013).

As such, determining the ideal age when you should introduce your child to technology is a tricky affair. As American Academy of Pediatrics’s (AAP) tech expert, Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe (M.D. and author of CyberSafe), says, “There really is no ‘right’ age to allow our kids to dip a toe into the digital pond.” Each child is unique, after all. Moreover, she adds that, “If we pay attention, we can decide what makes the most sense for our kids, because the reality is these new milestones are coming whether we like it or not.”

It would be ideal if we can provide our kids with the benefits of natural play and the advantages from technological exposure. More than finding the right balance between physical play and screentime, purposefully using technology to enhance and complement the natural play of children yields greater gains.

Here are some ways natural play and technology can complement each other for the greater benefit of your toddlers:

PLANNING OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

This is so basic but most of us forget this: if you’re going out, research and plan. It would ruin your day at the park, after all, if you failed to check accuweather.com if it will rain where you are. Find alternate routes and avoid traffic using Waze or Google Maps to lessen the stress of traveling that your toddler would need to endure. Know the exact screening schedule of cinemas by consulting clickthecity.com.

In this age of interconnectivity and smartphones, it would be inexcusable to have no foreknowledge of what’s happening in your city before you take your toddler out the door. Be smart; #BeFullyInformed.

INTERACTING WITH OTHERS

While there are lots of educational videos that promise to make learning fun for children, nothing beats face-to-face interaction in developing social skills for your toddler. Development Pediatricians keep making this point: you can’t substitute videos – no matter how educational they are – for actual human interaction. However, not all of us are as creative and as deliberate as we’d wish when we spend time with our kids – I, for one, know only about three nursery rhymes. What we can do as parents is to be with our kids when they watch Barney or High Five or whatever children’s show is trending these days and join them as they sing and dance and laugh at the screen. This way, your child would still be interacting with a person while enjoying the high production values of a popular TV show.

CREATION OVER CONSUMPTION

We know we’re not supposed to – but if your toddler is being fretful and you really need to get a move on preparing dinner, a tablet can buy you the 30 minutes you need to have your meal on the way. But instead of showing him a video or a simple puzzle he can solve in minutes, try something that will make him produce something. Technology, after all, can be used for consumption or creation. And while there is a time and place for technological consumption, creation is generally better than consumption.

Technology is useful in exposing children to various hobbies and interests without spending a lot of money. Download apps on your tablet that will introduce your child to playing the piano or painting or a plethora of other things that might interest him and let him make adorable art.

VIRTUAL TRIPS

This might be a little advanced for younger children, but then again, who wouldn’t want to go exploring fantastic places and sites? Google recently opened the Google Expeditions app to the public and thanks to the tech titan, anyone with an android phone (that meets the specs) and a Google cardboard (or any VR-compatible boards) can go on virtual trips to over 200 places, including museums, famous landmarks, underwater wonders (like the Great Barrier Reef), and even outer space.

This app is incredibly useful for teachers and students, but could also be a hit for parents and children. If your kids are nagging you to go to the Buckingham palace but you’re in a budget, this app is perfect for you

SAFER PLAY

Ever had a mini heart attack when your toddler suddenly bolted from your grasp at the grocery and you lost sight of him? Thanks to technology, keeping track of your little ones is easier. Some trackers use Bluetooth technology for short distance monitoring; others utilize GPS for a more sophisticated approach. You can even use these monitors for geo-fencing – you can set an electronic ‘limit’ and the device will alert you if your kid breaches this ‘digital fence’.

Depending on your needs and budget, there’s a variety of choices available for those who want wearable trackers for children. One of the most affordable options is Lineable ($10), which has a range of 65-98 ft., and promises to be reliable for up to a year. Tinitell ($129) is a hybrid GPS tracker and wearable phone for kids. The device can store up to 12 contacts, and if the lost kid needs to call his parents, he just needs to push the front button and speak the name of his parent to connect. Paxie ($175) is not just a digital tracker but also a bio sensor – monitoring temperature, heartrate, and activity to keep track of how active your child has been.

An alternative to digital trackers is flashme’s Sydney ($5) – basically a silicone armband that has a printed QR code that has all the child’s details. Banking on the assumption that most people are decent and would like to help a lost kid, and since most toddlers don’t know their address or their parent’s contact information, Sydney’s exceedingly inexpensive system could be the key in making it easy for strangers to return your child to you. Additionally, there’s also a version for your pet friends.