I have always been an early adopter of technology, even way back. I remember being in grade school programming in BASIC on my Commodore 64. Technology has changed a lot since then. It is much more obvious the impact it can have on learning. When the iPad 1 came out in 2010 I was one of the first to have one. The iPad was not the first tablet in our house (tablet being defined by a touch screen computer in slate form); however, it was the first that was truly refined and did what it promised.
That same year, my son Carsen (he would have been 3 ½ then) got to know the iPad. He loved music, and before the iPad we spent hours in front of the computer listening to music (back in the days when you had a desk for the computer). The iPad, to start with, was music, but soon became the source of lots more. I specifically remember people questioning my judgement of a 3-year-old having a $500 device. But he was definitely one of the first kids in the world with the source of all human knowledge in a format that he could learn from before he could read.
Not to worry, we always kept a close eye on the content (OK, there were probably some music lyrics that were a bit inappropriate for his age), but we always had the content filters turned on for our home network. You might also be wondering how having this access affected his interactions with the real world (versus the virtual world). To be honest, since he has always had access, it isn’t something special. If anything, interacting with other children, adults and family became more special, so he would put the iPad down and interact well. He still earns top marks in school, has lots of friends and still loves baseball. He was FaceTiming Grandma before most people knew what FaceTime was!
So, what does a kid do on an iPad some 8 years later? Well, first of all, he was way ahead when grade schools began to distribute iPads to the kids. He still brings home his homework on his school-owned iPad every night to do math homework and more (now in middle school). Really, what I find interesting is his consumption of knowledge. I believe most of his time is spent on YouTube listening to and watching videos on everything from the latest video games (Fortnite) to learning about history (something I would never have thought a 12-year-old would be interested in). He is constantly asking me questions, wanting to know if I have any information on the 80’s (as if I didn’t live through it), how to get things done, and even the latest world news.
I remember back to the early days when I would pay a dollar or two for the interactive book apps that he could look at on the iPad. They would read the book to him and encourage him to be interactive by letting him touch certain characters to make things happen. Others might have viewed it as a kid playing with a toy (which is true), but take a look some 8 years later and what has this taught him?
- Problem solving in a digital world
- Computer skills
This summer I was working on our mower at the house and struggling to determine how to fix it. That's when Carsen pulled out his digital tool and played a YouTube video on how to fix that specific problem. Even I had never thought about the digital world fixing the physical.
The other question I get is, "How many has he broken?" Just one. We never had big, shock absorbent cases on his iPads, and just a couple years ago he broke his first screen. When we travel he takes his own pillow and puts his iPad inside the pillow case. He picked the pillow up from the wrong end and out came the iPad on the concrete. That was the only time we had to have one repaired, and don’t worry, he won’t do that again.
So, what are the lessons learned from a child growing up with technology almost from the beginning?
- Have you seen those children at the store throwing a fit when their parents won’t let them have their phone? Carsen never thought this way because having the device wasn’t unique.
- It can be thought of as a game or as access to all human knowledge. It is both.
- Just because he has had access to technology does not mean he can’t socialize. If anything, I believe he can socialize with all ages and interests.
- When I grew up, I had a record player, radio, video games, books, magazines, newspapers, TV and more. Carsen has all of these as well, they are just in one device.
I was told that when I was young one of my favorite toys was the small workbench. You know the one. It had a hammer and plastic nails, nuts and bolts and such. I believe that the iPad is just the modern, digital version of that. We will see what the next 8 years bring.