Kids' fascination with their screens often gets a bad rap. In
some cases, such as when your kids can't seem to put down the game
controller long enough to eat dinner with the family or your tween
never interacts with friends face to face, only through text or IM,
But the other side of the story is how much technology has
opened your kids' world and how much more it can be used to fuel
their natural-born curiosity.
"I think technology is best utilized with curious kids if it is
used as a means for the family to do something together," says
Adler Planetarium President Michelle Larson.
So instead of looking at technology as a passive activity done
alone, put it to work with these easy ideas that are fun for the
1 Go Geocaching
Use your phone's GPS or a GPS receiver to go geocaching as a
family, Larson suggests. Her family loves the social experience of
treasure hunting. The little prize at the end is just a bonus.
"What builds the memory is all of those human interactions that the
technology enabled," she says.
Many area nature centers offer geocaching programs or locate
your own at geocaching.com.
2 Create your own digital storybook
Children can use technology to document and share real world
experiences or stories in a creative way, says Natalie Bortoli,
vice president of education programming and experience development
at Chicago Children's Museum.
Have your kids take pictures of an outing to the park, museum,
or other adventure (an afternoon encounter with a caterpillar?),
and then use the photos to tell the story of what happened. Let the
kids tell the story, express their thoughts and emotions, and put
together images and words to convey their experience.
Photos can be printed and turned into books with written text or
online applications allow families to create digital books using
written or recorded words.
Chicago Children's Museum is developing a Story Hub station that
will allow families to do something much like this, she says.
3 Do science together
Adler offers 20 projects on the web that allow people to do
science with its scientists through zooniverse.org. Anyone with
access to a computer, tablet or smartphone can take part in the
program, Larson says.
She says her daughter, 7, loves the Planet Hunters project in
which she can help scientists discover planets outside of the solar
system by observing lightcurve changes.
Larson suggests the Snapshot Serengeti project is another one
ideal for kids. The project involves identifying the animals
captured on camera images.
"It is real science. We have hundreds of thousands of images and
computers are really bad at identifying a zebra from an elephant,"
4 Create games
Elisa All, the mom behind 30SecondMom and Chicago Parent
contributor, says she takes advantage of her kids' passion for
gaming by having them learn how to create video games.
They are developing marketable skills in technology,
programming, design and user experience, she says. Now in free time
not devoted to sports or other activities, they blog and dabble in
code. The Digital Media Academy hosts a summer camp at University
of Chicago and iD Tech offers camps at Northwestern University for
game design. They are just two of many summer camps and programs
5 Map the sky
Explore the sky in your own backyard. Larson sees first-hand how
exposing kids to the universe around them at Adler can make a
difference, but she says you can build their curiosity in your own
Download apps for your mobile phone or tablet that literally
shows you real-time positioning of the stars and planets in the
sky. The apps tell you what you are looking at and connect you with
more information to explore.
"When I have people talk to me about those kinds of technology
apps, they love the apps, but they marvel at having the whole
family outside and the neighbors coming over. It becomes this whole
social bonding moment anchored in the technology. Those are the
types of ways in which I think kids find technology something as a
tool and they see everybody having fun around it," she says.
Tamara is the editor of Chicago Parent and mom of three.
See more of Tamara's stories here.
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