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Consuming or Creating: What’s Worth Your Child’s Time?

We tend to think of our children as consumers of information. They start consuming technology from an early age.  This study in 2014 released the following results:

Most households had television (97%), tablets (83%), and smartphones (77%). At age 4, half the children had their own television and three-fourths their own mobile device. Almost all children (96.6%) used mobile devices, and most started using before age 1. Parents gave children devices when doing house chores (70%), to keep them calm (65%), and at bedtime (29%). At age 2, most children used a device daily and spent comparable screen time on television and mobile devices. Most 3- and 4-year-olds used devices without help, and one-third engaged in media multitasking. Content delivery applications such as YouTube and Netflix were popular. Child ownership of device, age at first use, and daily use were not associated with ethnicity or parent education.

Then they go to school to learn and they produce classwork, reports, and essays. Now that various technology devices like iPads, iPhones, notebooks, chromebooks, laptops etc are becoming more common in the classroom and in our homes, our children have access to the tools that allow them to not only consume information but also produce (create) information. There is an important difference between consuming with technology and creating with it.

What does consuming mean?

Simply put – being absorbed by technology without producing much as a result.  As a parent of a child once obsessed with a particular video game, time-consuming could also apply here.

It is very easy to “loose track of time” or waste time in consumption mode especially when there is no good purpose for it. Consuming mode rarely uses the brain in any sort of real way. You’re essentially watching/playing something for the sake of watching/playing it. That’s ok for a short time. How much time is appropriate differs for every family. Age and quality of what is being watched or “consumed” are also factors.  An hour of watching cartoons vs. an hour of watching The Discovery Channel are necessarily equal in terms of quality.

Here’s where we can get into different types of consuming. Consuming does have a bit of a negative connotation. But it’s not all bad.  John Spencer, a former Middle School Teacher highlights a term called critical consumption. It’s when you begin to become an expert and appreciate the craft involved in making what you are consuming. He believes that consuming isn’t inherently bad. However, we should want for our children to be critical consumers so that they can become makers.

12-year old Adilyn Malcolm was a critical consumer when she used youtube videos to watch “millions” of videos of the best dubstep music dancers in the world to master dubstep dancing.  She watched videos over and over again until she figured out how to do the moves. Although she started out consuming Adilyn went on to curate, copy, adapt and then create her own dance moves.

Encouraging Creation

This 2015 report Young Child (0-8) and Digital Technology says that most children are consumers of technology and not creators. But this doesn’t have to be the case. We can help our children engage meaningfully with technology and be active creators as well. There can be positive effects of technology in a child’s cognitive and social learning and development.  There are many games, apps and tech toys out there that are helping to foster curiosity and imagination. When technology is used for creation, not just entertainment, we give our children the opportunity to express their will or make choices.

5 Simple and Fun Ways to Encourage Creation as a Family

1. Make Music

Record sounds using everyday items (pots, spoons, body) to create a soundtrack. Family members guess what is used to make the sound. Or turn your phones/ipads into musical instruments like the ukulele, guitar, piano or drums and have family jam session!

2. Make Books

Using an app like BookCreator to create and write a story. It might be a day-trip or activity that you’ve done as a family. Stories can made interactive by combining text, images, audio and video. Publish and share the created story with family and friends.

3. Make Games

Coding allows kids to be creative. Encourage the development of coding skills in a fun way through Move The Turtle (5y+) Tynker (7y+) Hopscotch (9-13yrs) or Scratch (all ages). Minecraft may be popular in your home. If it is and you don’t know much about it, take some time to sit down with your kids and get them to teach you about it. The use of geometric shapes to build “worlds” requires thinking and reasoning as well as strategy and spatial awareness.

4. Make Art

No mess experimenting and creativity with paints, stamps and backgrounds. Art My Kid Made, Doodlecast Pro, Doodle Buddy are all apps that encourage art creation.  Have a family gallery-walk or Art Show to show off everyone’s artist skills. (Side-note – some “free” apps come with ads or annoying in-app purchases so make sure you check these out before you let your children use them)

5. Make Movies

Use the video option of the camera of any digital device. Not quick ready for your child to be a youtuber? Start with Adobe Spark. Animated videos can be created in minutes. Choose a video layout, import video and images, add text and choose some music. That’s it. Have a movie screening night (or afternoon) to watch each others creations. Make some popcorn too!

Last Words

Technology is powerful, and so is creativity. When you put the two together and give your children the tools and freedom to find inspiration and direct their own learning you will be amazed at what they are able to do. When it thinking about what’s worth my child’s time online, consider the ways in which the technology is being used. Ask does interactivity of time online let my child have input, make decisions, take action; and observe the outcome? Last but not least – join in and encourage your children to share, collaborate and help others (including you)! Creating with technology should not be silent!

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