Curtis Silver wants all parents to expose their kids to education technology.
Welcome to the first installment of ‘Livin’ at the Corner of Dad & Technology.’ The name of this column is a take on the MC Frontalot song “Livin’ at the Corner of Dude & Catastrophe.” The subject matter is the mix of technology and parenting. The sandwich is roast beef and cheddar on Chicago hard rolls. It’s a really good sandwich. You should try it. I slap a little vegenaise on there, and it’s good to go.
We spend a lot of time as parents telling our kids not to touch things, an inordinate amount of time actually. When we go to the store the general rule is “don’t touch anything.” In my home office, everything is completely off limits, and a small hand resting on an object that has any iota of fragility attached to it, or even buttons, is generally off limits. Now, as the kids get older, obviously the chances of them actually breaking something lessen, but the rules haven’t changed.
Where technology has shifted though is through the advent of tech that begs to be touched, that has to be touched, that only works through touching. Up until recently, I was especially stingy with letting my children handle my technology. I have two tween boys and a little girl; they break things. They know about the tech, they use the computer (one specifically built for them to slowly destroy,) so they aren’t ignorant, but letting them go willy nilly with my devices? Hell no. Or so I thought.
I was visiting the great city of New York earlier this year and hung out with my friend Adam (@dadarocks.) I observed as he casually handed his toddler son an iPad, to which he intuitively opened a learning game and went to touch. He handled the touch controls with ease, the lack of confusing button commands clearly making it easier for a child to navigate. I questioned the ownership of the iPad, and Adam pointed out that it belonged to the kid. It was his piece of technology to play with; it was his piece of technology to learn on.
Now, there is tons of controversy as to whether children that young, or even as young as my kindergartner, should be staring at glowing screens for hours on end. It’s the same argument against the television that existed in the days after technicolor. The solution to that always comes back to parenting. I don’t think I have to explain that any further, all things in regulation and what not.
So after I bought an HP Touchpad during their recent fire sale, I reconsidered how stingy I was going to be with this particular piece of technology. I have a daughter who is very artistic and intuitive when it comes to technology, and really, you can’t do much with a nearly obsolete piece of technology like the Touchpad; it’s not very productive. It’s a toy, plain and simple. So, I let her play it. As thought, she loved it and started playing more than just Angry Birds. There were plenty of educational apps on the market (even more on the Android market or iPad market than on the WebOS market) that she found just as engaging. She’s got my ADHD, so the more apps I downloaded, the more she played.
So when I was asked to review the new uDraw Game Tablet from THQ I was already in a different mindset, especially when it came to kids and touch technology. I immediately thought of my daughter and how much fun she would have with a toy like this. Basically, it’s a device that is the result of a tablet and an Xbox controller having a mutant child. There is a Wii version as well. It’s controlled via a stylus and mild pressure put down on the stylus. She was quickly into the uDraw Studio: Instant Artist game that came with the tablet, eating up the on-screen artistic freedom like a bowl of Kibble. Not that I feed her Kibble or anything, but I’ve seen her go to town on a pile of bacon.
The uDraw Instant Artist game was great to get started. You can free draw on many different canvases; there are tons of brushes and stamps and animations, and it’s quite easy to share pictures. There is also a very well laid out art school, which guides you through many different art styles and how (stopping so you can actually do the activity) to utilize these styles on the uDraw tablet. A side note about drawing with the stylus though: for an adult, it’s not that easy. Most children haven’t developed a clear style yet, so it’s doodling.
If you’ve ever met one of us artists (yes, I’m one of those) who like to draw with things like a pencil or a pen and ink or charcoal, you’ll note that the pinky side of our palm and hand is usually black. This is from resting our hands on the paper, canvas, whatever and the medium being transferred. Obviously, with the uDraw there is no medium to transfer. However, because of the ability to pinch the uDraw (like you would an iPad to zoom in,) resting your wrist on the touchpad causes canvas movement that doesn’t help you keep a steady line.
You also have the “Etch-a-Sketch” syndrome, where you don’t want to lift the stylus even though you certainly can. Since you have to apply pressure to actually draw with the stylus, this doesn’t pose much of an issue except you tend to lift and drop on random spots on the screen. Not a fault of the device, as it’s ultra sensitive and responds well to even the slightest touch of the stylus.
So in addition to the art game, there is a Pictionary title, which brings the game to life but isn’t the best for the young kids as their cognitive comprehension of the world at large might not be up to adult standards yet. Unless you have one of those really precocious child like in the movies. You know, the ones always teaching the adults about love or getting themselves mixed into some sort of crazy spy adventure. I bet they are good at Pictionary.
There is a Disney Princess game, and as much as she loves Disney Princesses (and as much as they make me retch in my mouth) she opted for the Marvel Super Hero Squad game. This game makes perfect use of the uDraw tablet. The characters, which are decisively aimed at the primary school crowd, speak right to your child. They are the assisting superhero. She (my daughter) enjoyed controlling movements with the stylus (in a point and click fashion) and drawing lines to take out multiple bad guys.
The point of all this is becomes more than just the engagement, but it’s the physical interaction between the child and device to create an immediate reward. It’s letting them learn and fool around to discover all the bits and pieces of the games. The uDraw Tablet has a lot of potential to be a great learning tool, and hopefully the device can rise up and become an educational tool as well as a drawing and artistic tool.
Technology is changing, and we need to realize that we shouldn’t keep it from our children. They are growing up in the golden age of technology (you can suck it 20th century) and they need to be indoctrinated into it. As parents, it’s important for us to purchase technology that might not be 100% intended for use by children, but that they can use. It’s selfish for us to sit there and play games on our phones, while we have a child in the room that needs to learn to read. Why not download an app that assists them with reading and you help them? That’s the interaction with technology that needs to happen more often. In further columns I’ll talk about the appropriate level of a child’s inundation into technology, and people who use it as an excuse to ignore their kids. Don’t be that parent. Kids like to touch shiny technology, so let ’em.
Header image: Flickr user AngryJulieMonday / uDraw image: THQ