Technology and kids: Surprises do happen
Thom Brougham, 3, reads a book on the Kindle during a recent snowy Sunday afternoon. (RACHEL BROUGHAM/NEWS-REVIEW / January 31, 2013)
Before bed one night last week, Thom, 3, read me a book. It was Sandra Boynton's "Blue Hat, Green Hat," one he's had in his growing collection for a couple years.
And as he flipped to the last page, he turned, looked at me and smiled. He knew something great just happened.
I told him how awesome it was. How proud his dad will be when he finds out. Thom has read the book to both of us several times since.
But earlier in the day, before that proud parent moment, Thom had spent the better part of the afternoon playing with the Kindle Fire -- a Christmas gift from his uncle.
We had talked about getting him a tablet of some kind, something he could use for no more than 30 minutes a day. It would be great for long car rides, days when Mother Nature made playing outside unbearable.
But I was still skeptical.
Even after all the stories I've written about the use of tablets in schools, the teachers who tell me how much it has helped their students and all the research I've read about how technology really does benefit young children, I was never completely sold on the idea of letting my child learn from a computer.
After all, I learned how to read, write, add and subtract the old-fashioned way. I didn't do puzzles or games on the computer when I was little. I didn't even own one until I was in college.
But the first time I watched Thom use his new Kindle for just a few minutes, my mind started to change. He quickly learned how to open and close apps and how to search for the ones he wanted to play with.
The Kindle Fire comes with a service called FreeTime, which allows children to enjoy a variety of content -- videos, books, games. Once you set up the child's profile and they begin to play with it, FreeTime starts to recognize the types of things they enjoy and essentially personalizes the program for that specific child. It also gives parents peace of mind, knowing their children aren't accessing features they shouldn't be. Parents can set a time limit, and once time is up, the app is locked.
That day, Thom found the book "Blue Hat, Green Hat" in FreeTime.
"Momma, I have that book," he exclaimed as he opened it on the Kindle.
He spent the next hour reading the words over and over, using the narration tool to have the words read to him and used his fingers to move the characters around on those digital pages. And he laughed, smiled, he didn't want to stop.
I didn't want him to either.
For months, we've tried to get him to read on his own, which would just end in frustration.
"I can't do it." "I don't know how." "It's too hard."
We knew he could, he just wouldn't.
Now, he reads a book on the Kindle, followed by a real, page-turning book at bedtime.
He's enjoying his time spent reading, he's proud of his new accomplishments.
And as parents know, when your child is learning and having fun at the same time, you just go with it.
Rachel Brougham writes about a number of topics in this column which appears each Thursday. Email her at email@example.com.