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MANN: Creating a balance in a tech-crazy world is important

• Feb 9, 2018 at 3:00 PM

The explosion of technology is changing how kids learn, interact, communicate, play and sleep. It’s a new world for parents and educators.

So how much is too much? When should it be off? How do we get the right balance in the classroom and at home?

“Screen time” guidelines are evolving with the rapid increase of technologies available. The new definition of screen time isn’t only for television watching as it once was, but now needs to consider what technology and content are used, how they are used, and why they are used.

Being an elementary educator in a district which is blessed to have one-to-one devices, I know that creating a balance is important. Technology has opened access to information in seconds. Today’s available technologies offer new possibilities for technology use that are interactive and mobile, and that can help support learning in new and engaging ways.

Technology will never replace effective teaching strategies, but can only be used thoughtfully and intentionally to support learning and build specific skills sets to leverage better learning. When teachers have students use digital devices to interact with text, see relevant pictures and podcasts, read and comment on peers’ writing, and have students work at their own pace and level, then technology is being used to engage students in their learning, and students are less passive and unresponsive.

Classrooms need to have a balanced combination of activities. A language-rich classroom is critical to learning. When I walk into a classroom, I see children talking with a peer knee to knee about an idea, moving to new places in the room to work, participating in book clubs, making their thinking visible to their teacher by explaining their thinking and asking questions.

Students are active learners. They are cognitively invested with the topic. I see readers stop and jot down their thoughts on sticky notes as they read, I see teachers asking students to compare understandings with a nearby peer with a quick turn and talk. Teachers are modeling, prompting students to do the new learning with them and then giving them time on their own to practice this new learning. Integrating technology with best-practice teaching strategies and lots of opportunity for dialog help schools create balanced classrooms.

How can parents initiate balance at home and make good decisions about technology? Making a schedule for kids that builds technology in with other important activities is essential for helping children know how to limit their time with technology. Important “other activities” include family communication, face-to-face interaction and bonding. It also includes time for active play.

To create time and places for these vital activities, families can form tech-free zones at home. Going device-less at dinnertime opens up the opportunity for conversation. Asking each other about their day, having eye contact, learning how to take turns in conversation, caring to listen and learn about family members helps develop language, vocabulary and empathy.

A child’s bedroom is another place to create a tech-free zone. Children’s bedrooms are great places to play with toys, draw or read and sleep. Bedtime schedules should include a time for parents to read to their child, building strong bonds and positive relationships. Snuggling in with your child to read a book creates a quiet, warm place to go to sleep.

Children using electronics at night may not shut them off, risking the chance of not getting enough sleep. The amount and quality of sleep and alertness the following day are all unquestionably linked.

When kids are at home, plan a time to go out and play, ride a bike or scooter, build a snow fort and enjoy nature. Take them to a playground, encourage them to socialize with friends. Let them be curious, explore and take risks. These times will build confidence, help them solve problems, have conversations and be physically active.

Although there are so many great things about technology, it can never replace one-on-one conversation, which is so important for child development and social emotional learning.

Make it a priority to have personal connections with your children, talk to them, listen to them and help them create limits by being a good role model yourself, and creating tech-free times and zones at home.

Debra Mann is principal of Griffin Elementary School in Grand Haven.

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