It seems we are tracking everything these days, and there is no shortage of tools to quantify and chart all kinds of things relating to our babies. Some of these might be helpful; some look gimmicky. Today I want to talk about word tracking apps and devices.
In the early 90s, researchers visited the homes of middle and lower income families to get a glimpse into how the families were using language with their children. They found that by 3 years old, children from “professional” famiiles were hearing 30 million more words than children from low income families. Things are a bit more complicated, of course, but a number like that grabbed people’s attention and almost immediately companies started marketing word tracking devices to concerned parents.
Technology has improved since the 90s, and our understanding of early child development has come a long way too. I won’t say that these devices are useless, but when it comes down to it the things that will actually improve the quantity and quality of language that children are exposed to and engaged with are free, and technology is optional at best. Those millions of words don’t come out of nowhere, they come from doing things together with your children. You can pay to get a number that might motivate you to do more of those things, but do you really need extra motivation to play, talk, read, and sing with your children? If you’re even reading this, I would wager you are already plenty motivated and can skip the tracking tools altogether.
Still, it can be hard to let go of those tempting personalized stats, so here’s an attractive iceberg metaphor to ease your mind:
“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.”– Bill Gates
For a lot of parents, the idea of “teaching literacy and numeracy skills” to our children is intimidating—and if it’s not intimidating, it’s definitely overwhelming: there are only so many times we can recite the alphabet and sing nursery rhymes between doing the laundry, getting groceries, making meals, changing diapers, changing more diapers, loading and unloading children from vehicles, cleaning puke from our hair, and occasionally showering. Sitting down with our kids on the daily to intentionally “teach literacy” is a bit of a lofty goal: even if we have the time, we might not know what to do. And so it’s sometimes easier—let’s face it—to sit our kids down with Dora and hope they learn through cartoon osmosis.
There’s no harm in that—I know lots of toddlers who can teach me Spanish because of that show. But it’s important to remember that you are your child’s first and most effective teacher; Dora and her purple monkey companion are merely extending the lessons you’ve already taught. And though you might not know it, you are teaching your children all the time.
Your children develop most of their literacy and numeracy skills during the routine, day-to-day activities that are already part of your family life. While you are sorting laundry with your two-year old, she is picking up on patterns, numeracy, sizes, and categories. The most effective way to improve and develop your child’s literacy is to recognize these moments and build on them. This is easier said than done—most of us go on auto-pilot when we do routine tasks, so it’s a bit of a stretch to expect that you will remember to recognize (and build on) those moments of literacy in every mundane thing you do. Luckily, there’s an app for that.
Flit, our free family literacy app, was developed for parents like you to identify those moments of literacy and build on them. Whether you are in the middle of grocery shopping, doing laundry, or cooking dinner, you can click open the app, choose a category and quickly find a literacy activity you can incorporate into the task at hand. Here’s an example of what you’ll find:
Click the “Cooking” category. Choose an activity that corresponds to what you are making for breakfast—there’s a fun activity for everything from Smoothies to Fruit Loops.
Say it’s a Fruit Loop day: the app suggests laying the fruit loops out in a pattern of colours, having you or your child string them on a string in the laid out pattern, and then tying the ends of the string to make a fruit loop necklace.
While you do this activity, you can talk to your child about the different colours and pattern of the fruit loops. To extend the activity, you can share a book like We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs or Elmer by David McKee and have your child look for different colour patterns in it.
Each activity also has a section that explains the “Why?” of the activity—in the case of the Fruit Loops, the app explains that “Patterns are everywhere—in language, reading, writing and numeracy. This type of activity lets you make pattern recognition a natural part of your child’s routine.”
The app has a total of 116 activities that fall under eight categories: books, rhymes, games, crafts, writing, numbers, cooking, and reading. With so many activities, you can use it to incorporate literacy activities into most of your daily routines for a long time to come. After awhile, you will learn to come up with your own activities and see the literacy potential in all of the things you are already doing with your child each day… you might not even need an app for it.
Available on iOS since January, the free app is now also available on Android thanks to funding from TELUS Edmonton Community Board.
Click here to download the free iOS version of Flit.
How to enhance (not detract from) your family life by using technology creatively. Technology is but one tool in your parenting toolbox; use it creatively and it can enhance (not take over) your relationships.
While there is no limit to the variety and price of technology on the market, I am not convinced that you need any of that stuff. Instead I want to focus more on how the technology you probably already use could be helpful for promoting literacy.
I am sure you have already heard that screen time is not recommended for children under 2 years old at all, so I won’t belabor that point, but I do want to mention that I can think of one possible exception: Video Chat. Babies need regular face-to-face interaction, and nearly all of that should be done in person. Still, I think that babies can benefit from interacting with family members through video conferencing apps like Skype and Facetime. They might lose interest sooner than if the family member was in the room with them, but it is an opportunity to do a little bit of bonding over long distances.
If you have a smartphone, then you essentially have a video camera, microphone, and notepad with you at all times. It has never been easier to create a library of family stories and moments to share with your children and other family members, and I have already written a post about the value of family stories. The key is to think of how you can do this in a way that is less intrusive and time consuming so that you can enjoy the process without making it a chore. And you don’t want to miss the moment while being preoccupied with capturing the moment. Technology should be working for you, and not the other way around.
I met a mom who decided to create an email address for her newborn baby so that she could send him notes and letters whenever she had something that she really wanted him to share with him. I’m not especially crafty, but I do check my email every day, so there is something about that kind of virtual time capsule that really appeals to me. Sharing those letters together when your child is older would be so special. Or giving that email account to your child at graduation or some other rite of passage could be pretty profound. It will probably be even more heart warming if you log in to that account and clean out the spam every once in while!
Take a moment to think about how many digital devices you have in your home. It may sound something like this: two LCD TVs, an iPad, three smartphones, a laptop and maybe an Xbox. Technology has become such a big part of our lives, it’s easy to forget just how ever-present it is. It’s here to stay, and it’s everywhere. Just the other day I saw that Subway has switched to touchscreen fountain pop dispensers!
It seems our world is becoming increasingly digitized, so it’s understandable that children are being exposed to it at an earlier age. On top of that, parents want the best for their children and are sometimes led to believe this means having access to digital devices. It’s true; we do need to know how to use technology in today’s world—but we also need to remember it is just one “tool in the toolbox;” it’s not everything, and it’s not even the most important thing.
We know through research on brain development that learning happens in relationships through one-on-one interaction. We also know it’s not realistic for most families to totally remove technology from our homes. But what we can do is be mindful about how and when we use it by remembering this acronym: ORIM.
What does ORIM stand for?
Opportunity Recognition Interaction Modelling
Is there an Opportunity to turn this into a learning experience? Learning takes place through interaction: talking, singing, rhymes, stories, and positive feedback.
Is there a way to Recognize and value your child and their efforts? This builds confidence and self-esteem. Is there a way to recognize when your child has made progress?
Does this activity have room for Interaction? Brain development takes place through “serve and return”—healthy back-and-forth communication.
Children absorb the behaviours and attitudes of the people they spend the most time with. Does the way you use technology Model a positive attitude about learning?
In short, since learning occurs within the relationship between child and caregiver, and through “serve and return interaction,” nothing compares to hands-on activities done with a real human. That said, family literacy is about making the most of your everyday activities, and for a lot of families those activities include digital technology. Think of ways you can add value to these experiences!
Turn closed captioning on when watching TV.
Use your smartphone camera together to capture items on a scavenger hunt.
When playing games on a tablet, make it truly interactive by talking about what’s happening and asking questions.
Digital technology has its place, but it’s important to unplug and have boundaries. Try “tech time-outs” for the whole family!
On that note, I’ll leave you with this quote from Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd. It’s a parody of the classic book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, and is a great story to read together as a way to transition into your “tech time-outs:”
“Goodnight remotes and Netflix streams, Androids, apps and glowing screens. Goodnight MacBook Air, goodnight gadgets everywhere.”
Digital Technology is one of the topics we cover in our Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Parent Workshops. If your organization would like more information about hosting us, please contact the Centre for Family Literacy at 780-421-7323, or check our website
Download the free Flit app for literacy activities to do with your children 0-5 years old! Here’s the link to iTunes to download.
As a mother of 3 children now 9, 7 and 5, and a former teacher, literacy learning has been a big part of our family and my career. I’m familiar with how important it is for a parent to engage and read with their children. Still, I would sometimes wonder how to build their language and literacy skills. There are only so many times you can sing “Paddy Cake” with your children before you get bored.
Where did I turn to find activities? Pinterest, of course. If you are not familiar with Pinterest, you can search a topic of interest and find a multitude of ideas. I would sort through numerous Pinterest boards searching for literacy learning activities, but it takes a lot of time. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that provided us with some of the best ideas to help our kids gain literacy skills, so we could easily find what we wanted?
Now there is! The new Flit app by the Centre for Family Literacy is not just another literacy app to put in front of your kids. This app is for us, the parents and caregivers of children from birth to 5 years. The Flit (Families Learning and Interacting Together) app offers a curated resource of some of the best activities to connect and do with your child to boost and build key literacy skills.
Here is how it works:
First, scroll across the top to choose from 8 categories: Books, Rhymes, Games, Crafts, Writing, Numbers, Cooking, or Reading.
Once you choose a category, you will see the activities in that category. Simply choose an activity and you will be taken to that activity screen.
Once you click on an activity you will be taken to that activity screen.
There you will find:
What you need
What to do
How to do it together with your child
At the end of each activity you will find:
What concepts can be learned from the activity
Additional resources or ideas
You can also heart favourite activities for use another time or share your activity with family and friends on Facebook.
HOW ELSE CAN THIS APP HELP YOU AS A PARENT?
Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant that doesn’t have any activities to keep children busy. Yikes! You could easily open this app and choose an activity to help you occupy your children before their food arrives.
Kids are at home for their day off from school and you’re not sure what to do with them to pass the day. Take a peek at the app for ideas to get your day moving.
You can’t make it to the Rhymes that Bind family literacy program today because your toddler is sick. You can open the app and do the activities in your own home until you can make it back to the group.
It gives you an opportunity to engage with your children in a meaningful way.
The app will also benefit: parents, grandparents, babysitters, nannies, day home providers, preschool teachers, and early learning professionals.
Are you ready to get the freeFlit app? Here’s more information and the link to iTunes to download the app.
Currently Flit is only available to Apple users, however the Centre for Family Literacy is working on securing funding for an Android version. Please do the quick survey on the website if you are interested in the Android version of the app.
Educator, Writer, Blogger, Mom
I blog over at Adalinc to Life where you can find children’s book reviews, activities, diy projects, and other inspiration for you and your home.
“…New digital technologies have entered every aspect of our reality, including families and the lives of young people. They have already affected preschool children’s play and learning as well.”
– UNESCO (2010)
I recently did a presentation on technology at the Alberta Early Years conference. I opened the session with a confession – I am not a technology expert and I have been a reluctant user of new technologies.
However, as the above quote from UNESCO states, technology is in every aspect of our lives. Families are using technology, and in family literacy we work with the strengths and tools that families are bringing. So the debate is no longer “do we use it,” it is “how do we use it.”
Major studies (“Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers” – Kaiser Family Foundation Report – 2006, American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Paediatric Society) have advised that 0-2 year olds should not have any “screen time” at all and it should be limited for toddlers and pre-schoolers.
In my session, we discussed the research versus the reality. Like anything, there has to be balance – between the use of technology (by both parents and children) and meaningful interactions (that promote positive family relationships and healthy development). I challenged participants to pick their favourite app, perhaps one they thought families would be using at home, and answer the following questions:
Why are we using this technology or app? Is it for fun, for learning, or for some other purpose?
What kind of time is being spent with it? Is it high quality and interactive (e.g. can we use the technology as we would use a board game) or is it time being spent alone?
Is what we are doing developmentally appropriate for children?
Do we have guidelines/rules about when and how long it’s used (for parents and children)? Do you have technology-free zones or times?
What are we modelling? What are our children and families seeing?
There’s no “right” answer to any of these questions, but perhaps they can help us think more critically about our use of technology, both personally and professionally.
Ending the session, we talked about how it can be a challenge to start the discussion about technology use. Here are some great books that could help break the ice. Enjoy them and have fun as you explore how you are using technology!
There is something very special about hearing a story. For many people, it summons warm memories of snuggling up with mom or dad and a book at bedtime, overhearing adult family members share stories around the kitchen table, or telling ghost stories around the fire.
What’s more, hearing a book read aloud can go a long way to making the many benefits of reading accessible to even struggling or “reluctant” readers. Vocabulary can improve, comprehension goes up, and a book can be enjoyed that might have been too challenging for them to read alone. Even for fluent readers, there is a lot to like about hearing stories out loud.
I can only remember hearing a few books on tape as a child. But a few years ago, I discovered that the wait list for audiobooks is often significantly shorter than the wait list for print copies. Ever since then I’ve enjoyed listening to dozens of short stories and novels. I still like to sit with an actual book when I get the chance, but here’s a list of a few more things that I especially like about audiobooks:
I can listen to books in my car, on my phone, online, on cd (yes, I still own and use a Discman)… so, just about everywhere.
I can listen to books at times when it would be impossible (or super dangerous) to read them (while driving).
On nights when I am too tired to even read a few pages before I go to sleep, I can still put on my headphones, close my eyes and listen to a story instead.
Some books are performed as a radio drama with a full cast of voice actors and sound effects. Sometimes authors narrate their own stories, that’s pretty cool too.
So, whether you are considering things that you can do together as a family, or if you’re tired of the long commute into work and back everyday, consider trying out an audiobook. And if you’re feeling up to it, grab a glass of water and read a book to someone you love.
I am an avid reader averaging at least 2-3 books weekly and could never imagine not being able to go to my bookshelves and pick out a book I am in the mood to read. The physical act of holding the book and turning the pages and being able to take it and prop it up on the cereal box or read it in the bathtub are pleasures I would not want to replace.
But it turns out that the act of reading is enjoyable whether you do it with an eReader or a paperback. I have recently started reading eBooks and realize I can now enjoy both ways of reading. My eReader is much lighter to carry when I am packing for a trip – no more husband complaining I have packed too many books in my suitcase! There is a wide variety of eBooks you can download free or request from your library and then have with you for whenever you feel like reading or one of those waiting room opportunities pops up! It also addresses the different reading moods you might be in. I have all kinds of different genres to match my mood. My eReader also physically props up very well when I am reading lying down and only needs one finger to turn the pages.
So, have I replaced my book shelves with my eReader? Not a chance! But I have added my eBooks to my choices when I am reading.
Have you tried reading on an iPad or eReader? What have you discovered?