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Friday, December 15, 2017

Engagement not Entrapment

Recently I had the privilege of teaching a class of second graders for five weeks. As I walked in the door I was confident on my preparation that I had done the previous day, the list of activities I had planned out and the timetable. But I was far from ready. What I hadn’t anticipated is that kids go from one activity to another as swiftly as notes change on a song. The environment around them is a vast ocean of knowledge and they are like little sponges ready to absorb all this. There is absolutely no down-time which left me with zero transition time for prep from one activity to another. Not just that these little minds have so much to share and so many stories to tell. I never found enough time for everyone to speak during the sharing portion of my class. As I would get things ready for the next activity I found confusion taking over my class because the kids would each find their own thing to do. I realized the importance of engagement. Eventually I got better with the class but I never stopped wondering about the enormity of engagement and how it is half-baked in the digital space for kids. And by engagement I don’t mean kids being glued to the screen, that is not engagement, that is entrapment. 

True engagement is when both parties get to share and equally participate. In the case of a child engaged with his tablet this can only happen when there is active involvement and flow of ideas from him to the digital space and not just the other way around. As parents, educators and adults what that means is that the onus is on us to find the right media to nurture these minds and to challenge them. Let’s not stop at that, let’s make this a part of our social space, let’s ask them about their favorite shows or games - why do they like it, who is their favorite character and why. It’s as simple as inculcating comprehension after they have read a story, why not do the same for the digital media? 

I had the benefit of witnessing the fact that kids love to share their stories, all we have to do is ask.

I like the work that Common Sense Media is doing in this regard. Check out how you can search for age-appropriate media for your kids, like find apps for age 7-8 yrs. 

PS: I cannot conclude this story without thanking Mrs. Megan Younglove (@myounglove), second grade teacher from Cougar Ridge Elementary, for her immense help and support during my short stint with teaching her class.

Friday, December 1, 2017

More Mentoring Than Monitoring

We live in different times. Our generation is the one that saw the progress of digital media in leaps and bounds. Around 50% of the world population has an internet connection today in comparison to 1% in 1995*. We saw the internet being transformed from exotic to an everyday necessity. If we have house guests today we welcome them with food, a comfortable bed and our wifi password. Our kids are going to be the first generation to grow up with digital devices. We are the first to raise a generation of digital citizens. It is almost like we have discovered fire and we have to keep our kids from going near it to prevent them from harm. In order to protect our children we are busy monitoring their interaction with the screens and in doing so we are forgetting to mentor the next generation so that they become the best citizens in our digitally connected world. Deborah Heitner, founder of Raising Digital Natives, deftly points out that mentoring is much more crucial than monitoring in managing screen times for children. Raising kids is hard work and the digital media just adds another staggering layer of difficulty on top of an already uphill task. I think the time is now when we need to participate with our kids in the digital space. We need to make our digital participation an extension of the social interaction with our children, one that is smooth and seamless and one that will make them strategic thinkers in the physical world and beyond.