To Trade Pencils for Tablets

I came across this article earlier today, and while I agree with the spirit of the article, I can’t say that I’m that fond of the message.

The even gutsier educational leader is the advocate for technology that says “wait – all in good time”. There are a lot of phrases in this article (including the title of this blog post) that contribute to a tone of digital technology is our new-foundation, lets toss away the old.

Ken Eastwood sounds like an amazing educator, leader and insightful about technology, but for me foundational education doesn’t include such a large focus on current digital technology. Here are a few examples of what I see as the foundational skills that I can pass along to my own children.

The History of Technology – This is something I’ve recently started taking with my 6 year old about. Not framed in history lesson style facts, but making a point to talk about “the old days” (either during my lifetime, or earlier) and how people communicated and used technology. Then, guiding our conversation to comparing it to technology she’s familiar with, while looking at the similarities and differences.

Language – Technology often doesn’t replace, but adds to. It’s tough to find a technology, or a mode of communication now that isn’t based in language in some way, to some degree. Many are based in and built on mother tongue. Learning about language is important for kids as it is a technology they will use all their life. Learning a second/multiple language is also beneficial (foundational, for me as a parent) because it is easier done at a younger age, provides my child with useful skills, and it introduces and embeds an ‘outside perspective’ culturally and technologically that is a transferable skill.

Greetings – I’m tempted to say “manners” here, but such a topic often gets too unnecessarily formal. Greetings are an essential skill for kids to learn, and too many North American kids do not have this skill. It’s an important skill because it teaches children about the existence of others, it forces them to acknowledge others – and if we’re going to be a technology dominated world, in which this technology gives us individual control over networks and environments specific to the individual, then we need to ensure that people do not forget that their actions don’t actually only affect themselves. Greetings are ethical in a way that manners and using the correct soup spoon are not. Read Sturgeon’s More than Human for a great story that explains the role of ethics in being human and using asynchronous connectivity. Also, Why American Kids are Brats.

Reading – Books will never die simply for the fact that kids love children’s books. Time alone with a book is often a child’s first time spent alone, engaged in an activity that is under their own control, free to explore. They develop patience. Reading to kids, in books with extravagant and engaging static pictures, is great parent/child time – time where the parent is forced to be the dynamic element, not the technology.

Sandboxes – Not actual sandboxes, but activities where kids are free to explore the natural world. Have you ever watched a 3 year old play with containers in a bathtub or at the sink? This is them learning about physics, about how the world works. If we shift this focus to ipad swiping (or something equally human created) we’re teaching them technology use at the expense of learning about the world around. Save it for later – technology will change, gravity doesn’t (at least not in human time).

Cooking and Nutrition – Both of our kids are active in the kitchen and help out in preparing dinner and making things like bread and cookies. They love it, it’s a process of creation in a way that the final product is more than the sum of its parts way. We’re active in talking about what we eat, and choosing what we eat – neither of our kids had much sugar before the age of 3 (largely thanks to my wife’s efforts). We have no way of knowing how this will translate into eating habits when they are teenagers or older, but we do believe that it will at least make our kids think about what they eat – which is the main point in discussing and promoting healthy nutrition with them: make them cognizant about how they fuel their body, then they can make better decisions later.

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