I’ve been following TeachMama’s blog for several years now. She may not fall directly into an academic category because she’s an educator writing primarily on how to “sneak in learning” with her three young children. In my mind, she’s a hybrid Mom-Teacher blogger, so her blog name is perfect.
Some of my favorite posts from TeachMama are about creative ways of practicing skills. For instance, she got me into using clothespin and letter match-ups to practice numbers and games like alphabingo to practice lower case letters. She’s also inspired me to try the Me in the World craft orienting children to their place in the larger world.
I’ve been wanting to do that one with my English Language Learners. Every time I browse her website, I keep finding new things to try with students, such as Using the Daily Weather Forecast for Sneaky Math Learning. You also have the option of subscribing via RSS or by email, and I do both.
Recently, TeachMama’s been working on a series of posts addressing digital literacy.
Early on, she referenced this article from the Washington Post: Helping Your Kids Navigate the Stormy Seas of Social Media as something she is thinking about. The article takes the stance that “everyone is doing it” so one shouldn’t make social pariahs out of ones children by denying them digital media. The article quotes Caroline Knorr, parenting editor of Common Sense Media, and says that “if parents don’t let their children use social media, they are not equipping them with the skills they need to function in the digital world.” That seems a little overstated to me. Young children don’t necessarily need social media to learn digital skills. They do need to learn to navigate social media, though, and the article gives several examples of early teenager’s social trials magnified by social media. I don’t see that as an argument for more exposure, though.
The article does include some ideas of limited-use applications that younger children can use to practice their digital or social media skills, such as Webkinz.
My focus here, though, is TeachMama because she writes about specific learning strategies as she practices them on her specific children, all of them under the age of 10, too young for most social media sites.
In her series, our digital kids: teaching, supporting, and parenting 21st century learners, she shows us how she is “slowly introducing [her] kids to cool tools of social media.”
One post from the series that caught my eye is how to get your kids started with texting: texting 101. In this post, she tells us how she is introducing her children to texting with a stripped down old phone and numerous limitations.
I think the first time I saw this post, I flinched. I don’t like to introduce kids to digital toys any earlier than necessary. I saw the texting as a toy, of course. But as I read further, it started to make more sense. She tells us:
Our goal with this was simple:
- to give the kids a bit of controlled freedom as they communicate with family members and friends that we agree upon;
- to let them have the feeling they have their own technological ‘space’ to have games that we decide upon and to take photos;
- to give them a chance to show us that they can handle this bit of technological freedom and room to breathe.
She also places numerous limits and alerts on their usage, such as limiting where (in the living room), when (taking turns), how (with all alert volumes turned on high, and no clicking on ads), and with who (family members) they could use the phone. I was also reassured when she stripped the phone of extra temptations and limited its use to texting only. I also appreciated reading that “our first and foremost message was that texting is the same as talking–you interact with respect, kindness, and manners.” That’s a valuable component to digital literacy that would compliment concerns from the Washington Post article.
What I am finding especially interesting about TeachMama’s approach is that she recognizes that the digital world will creep into our children’s (and students’) worlds despite our efforts to shield them, and she concludes that it’s best to give them controlled experiences with such media and have them gain experience under supervision. This is a proactive approach I’d like to take with my own child and my present and future students.
As my esteemed TA has mentioned, all teachers should gain permission from parents before introducing any new digital media (or social media, specifically). It seems even more important to lay out the exact uses and safety measures ahead of time, not only for the parents’ benefit, but for our own, so we are careful and deliberate about how we use social media and other digital devices. Ideally, their use should be tied to specific educational goals in addition to digital literacy.
At first I was hoping that TeachMama would write a little about the educational benefits of texting (I don’t know; is there such a thing?), but I think that this may fall under the realm of digital literacy, which is as much a reality for today’s children as learning how to read, write, and think critically.
Another inspiring “on-the-ground” TeachMama post is how to teach kids to search the web, read, research and evaluate. It’s a quick story about a quick web search to identify the fruit of a favorite tree. I wish she had talked a little more about the choices one makes to narrow a search, but maybe that’s for another day. I could see this as a plan-able teachable moment with younger children. You could learn about how you search for information, evaluate sources, and fine-tune a search. For that matter, you could learn about what to do if you came across some inappropriate content. There are numerous teachable moments in trying to find information.
I must also mention TeachMama’s educational app round up, Best iPad Apps For Learning and Fun. She took suggestions from her readers and tried out all of them, I think, then collected her results into this post. She has many great ideas here!
Disclaimer: I contributed the idea for Numbers League math app. A musician/programmer friend developed and made it for the parent company, and it’s so fun and useful that I talk it up every chance I get.
In short, TeachMama has some interesting things to say about teaching digital literacy to children, and lots of great ideas to make learning fun for elementary-aged students. I hope you’ll drop in on her some time and read more.