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Get Ahead Kids® Feature Article
Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 4, No. 4 - July/August 2012

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Learning Technologies

By Jo Burnell

I believe our love affair with the printed page will continue for centuries to come. However, technology is here to stay, especially if we want to save a forest or two.

There are some very good reasons why touch sensitive screens and multimedia devices are part of our future; it's all about learning.

Reading and writing are essential skills for survival everywhere in the western world. It's a shock to know that up to 30% of Australian adults don't have enough literacy skills for their everyday needs. The rate of illiteracy is higher in many countries. How do people survive if they can't read and write? More importantly, how can they achieve their goals?

Enter Learning Technologies. Touch screens and voice output software may hold some answers for those who can afford it. While there are many free forms of Text to Speech software, the quality versions cost.

If you can't decipher letters and words, use Text to Speech or Read Out Loud. If writing is difficult, Word Predict software now exists. Type in the first letter or two of a word and your helpful technological assistant suggests possible options. This form of software also helps with grammar to an extent. Even before you touch a key to type the next word, grammatically correct options appear onscreen.

For those who simply cannot handle the bewildering world of written letters and words, voice recognition software is now state of the art. Of course, the best versions need to be purchased.

The world has definitely changed for the better for those who struggle with reading. YouTube clips and Web-based photo guides can teach you everything from boiling eggs to soldering your computer's motherboard, but beware not everything on the Internet is useful or safe.

It is possible to achieve your dreams in this internet-based information tsunami, but it's also possible to drown, so where does that leave our children? Where they once spent hours climbing trees and playing in the streets, they are now glued to screens of all sizes.

I've seen babies touch screens to make pictures grow, shrink and change. Toddlers navigate photo and video galleries, accessing their favourite games and e-puzzles with the swipe of a finger. However, little fingers can also erase entire programs in the blink of an eye.

If you allow young children access to your computers, iPads or tablets it may be wise to back up important data on an iCloud or external hard drive.

Preschoolers can be entertained in waiting rooms with free or low cost App's that teach anything from colours to the effect of gravity. Turning pages of an e-book is child's play but there are darker sides to our technological revolution.

Children don't understand that the world can view their Social Site news flashes. The most vulnerable can be lured into worlds beyond their understanding and tempted by the previously inaccessible while sitting in their own homes. Our kids need protection, especially when they don't think it's necessary.

Technology can also seriously affect health and well being. Research is finding that excessive screen time and addiction to game sites may have causal links to a growing incidence of depression and anxiety, particularly in teenagers.

Like everything in our world, moderation and a little bit of common sense allows the benefits and enjoyment of technology to outweigh the dangers. Software is available that restricts children's access to adult sites. However, computer savvy pre-teens can scale cyber firewalls with relative ease.

Strategies offered below are similar to those recommended by many schools to safe guard children.

Checklist

  • A Safe Place - access for all the family in a central, easily observable location
  • Time Restriction - reward children for helping around the house & participating in outdoor activities
  • Curfews for all, including Mum & Dad - dock all devices at bed time
  • Set a budget for paid technology usage - this will help children develop good habits early so they don't break your bank later with excessive texting, data charges & phone calls

Where and when can we start introducing children to technologies? As soon as they show interest. Simple one touch Apps and e-picture books are a great place to start.

With parental guidance you can engage children in e-books and computer images from 6-18 months. As visual skills develop, children will show more interest in detailed screen content.

Children's techno savvy skills continue to outpace their parents, so it is a hard slog to keep up with what is available.

About Jo Burnell

Jo is a speech pathologist who enjoys working with children. She reads and reviews childrens' literature in all formats. Hooking the reluctant reader into the world of books is her dream.

More Information

www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au

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