Screen time for our children is so often demonised but amidst the violent video games, the cyber bullying and inappropriate material vying for 'moral panic' headlines, there are countless amazing and positive things they can do online. Things we couldn't even have dreamed of as children as we leafed through a mountain of text books and encyclopaedia.
Here are 10 of our favourite good gadget activities:
1. Star gazing
Children have marvelled at the night sky for millennia but nowadays young astronomers can learn the names of constellations at the mere point of a tablet (light pollution permitting of course). Try Star Walk Kids or Sky View Free.
2. Learning a language
Interactive, multimedia language sites such as Babbel and Duolingo make picking up anything from a few words pre-holiday to becoming more confident, much more appealing than poring over a book and stopping and starting a CD or tape every few phrases. Working through the levels creates structure and achieves points - whilst there's a mix of listening, speaking and writing exercises for roundness.
For younger children who might find Babbel and Duolingo unappealing, try BBC Schools as a starting point.
3. Picking up a musical instrument. OK so they might struggle to teach themselves the cello via an online tutorial alone but the basics of simpler instruments such as the ukelele, harmonica or recorder can all be learned via video lessons. Search online and take your pick!
4. Writing a blog. Pick a theme - it could be analysis of their team's football matches, reviews of children's books or TV programmes, or recipes – and let them create their own online magazine. Older children with a strong interest will enjoy sharing their thoughts on whatever they're into with the world (okay 'the world' might be an exaggeration if in reality only their granny and best mate read it but it's the doing that counts here).
The major blogging platforms such as Wordpress do have a minimum age of 13 and so that your child can stay safe online too. Make this a joint project so you can supervise before they press "post". It's also wise to stick with first names only and avoid divulging any identifying details. Blog sensibly and you shouldn't face any problems.
Blogging will hone their writing and creative skills and provide an outlet for their enthusiasm. Kids Blog Club has further advice and ideas on blogging for youngsters.
5. Working their brain cells
There are squillions of brilliant, (and some not so brilliant to be fair), brain training puzzles on apps and websites out there that are fun and entertaining too. Definitely a less guilt-inducing way for them to spend their wired time on a long journey than zapping aliens. The Your Fantastic Elastic Brain app also explains how that grey matter actually works in the first place.
6. Boosting their learning
Given the choice of a maths workbook or a funky interactive game online, nine kids out of 10 are going to gravitate at speed towards the latter. Educational websites aren't a replacement for a teacher or parent explaining a concept in person but they can tempt even the most reluctant kids to do some additional work.
You'll find games for everything from times tables to telling the time and phonics. A word of warning though: check that an app or site uses the same terms and methods as your child encounters at school – this can be a problem particularly with literacy apps using US English.
7. Reading more books
If you're a traditionalist who still prefers the printed word, handing an e-reader to your offspring can feel like heresy, but if anything the upsides for youngsters are even greater than for adults. For a start there will usually be an on-board e-dictionary, so they can look up an unfamiliar word instantly, and then there's the ability to change the font size to suit their needs.
Should they get hooked on a series and be desperate to move onto the next book, you can download it straight away and the availability of free sample chapters means they can try a new book before they (or you) buy.
8. Watching the weather
Go beyond the regular forecast and make the day's weather come to life, particularly when there are some extreme meteorological conditions on the horizon.
If there's a thunder storm brewing (it's pretty dull if not...), Lightningmaps.org, can be mesmerising. It plots local lightning strikes on a map in almost real time, so you can see them pretty much as you hear the thunder and can check how the storm is moving and developing. A hit for winter, given how much kids love the white stuff, is uksnow.com which maps depth of snowfall.
9. Learning to draw something new.
OK, so we had Take Hart and the odd Learn to Draw book but the YouTube revolution means that whether your child is naturally arty or, ahem, merely enthusiastic, there are tons of learn to draw lessons at their fingertips. Search and you'll find ones for cats and dogs, transport, houses and natural scenes - anything and everything.
10. Getting answers to all those otherwise impossible questions children ask.
Last but definitely not least, being able to find quick and easy answers to the endless flummoxing questions the kids ask is transformational.
How much easier and more informative is it to Google "why is the sky blue?" after all...
What positives does technology bring to your children's lives and learning?
Overall do you think gadgets are more good than bad for them or vice versa?
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