Most parents hold pretty strong opinions one way or another on kids’ smartphone usage, and rightfully so. More than any generation before, children growing up now find themselves fully immersed in a tech-heavy world — and this tech can have just as many potential pitfalls as it does benefits.
As PBS Kids cites, American kids between birth and eight years of age utilize screen media for two hours and 19 minutes per day, on average. It’s becoming less of a matter of whether kids will be exposed to technology like smartphones and tablets, and more of a matter of when and how.
The good news is there are lots of ways for little ones to use smartphones and tablets productively — to learn, explore and engage with the world around them. This idea pushes back against the idea mobile devices have to be damaging boredom busters, handed to kids to pacify them and keep them quiet rather than enrich them.
Here are just four examples of ways kids can use tablets and phones creatively.
Go on a Geocaching Adventure
Having a smartphone with GPS on hand means a virtual treasure map is just a few taps away. The idea behind geocaching is that other community members have hidden containers at certain locations, which other users can then navigate to using GPS coordinates. Think of this as an opportunity to teach kids navigation skills, like using directions and reading a map.
Geocaches are even rated by difficulty and size, so together parents and caretakers can adjust the level of the adventure depending on the age and experience level of the child. Just be sure a trusted adult is there to supervise every step of the way so kids can enjoy a safe escapade.
Play “I, Spy” in the Natural World
Many of us have fond memories of gazing out of car windows on family road trips or out the bus window on school field trips while playing, “I spy with my little eye.” The object was to correctly guess the object based on its characteristics — color, size, shape, etc.
Well, a smartphone or tablet is an excellent way to facilitate spy activities for kids. Simply challenge players to go snap a picture of objects that fit certain categories, like “something yellow” or “something round.”
As the experts at Tinkergarten write, this twist on the classic game of “I spy” helps kiddos make connections between objects. It helps encourage kids to listen and think, as well. And, of course, it gets children outdoors — whether they’re playing in their backyard, the park, at the beach or elsewhere.
Consume a Podcast or Audiobook
If you’re sensing the kiddos need a break from staring at a screen — but are still searching for an easy and educational way to pass the time — there are lots of kid-oriented podcasts and audio-books available for download. This tends to come in handy on car rides and right before bedtime in particular.
Use an App to Make a Subject Fun
There are countless apps targeted toward helping kids learn. In fact, the New York Times recently outlined their favorite online learning apps by age group in subjects like math, coding, science, natural studies, social/emotional development and reading.
Far from asking kiddos to sit inside on a nice day running through math drills or taking a spelling test, these apps emphasize the fun, colorful and interactive aspect of learning — which tends to make kids feel like they’re playing a game rather than working.
It’s our responsibility to help kids use smartphones and tablets in creative, educational and fun ways — so start up a game of “I spy,” try your hand at geocaching, use an app to spice up a subject or dive into a new audio adventure.