Now that I have an iPad (thanks, honey!), my children have filled it with a plethora of apps that meet their needs and wants. I’ve seen my share of great ones and I’ve suffered through some that weren’t even worth the FREE price tag.
Lately, I’ve been considering creating a website that rates and recommends iOS apps for kids based on reviews by children. I know that my own children have become pretty good judges of what is worth $1 or two and what isn’t. For example, my children (and the daycare kids that fill my house every weekday and inevitably get their hands on an iPad) love the games made by Toca Boca. These apps run about $2 each, but they are well worth it. They are exploratory with lots of open-ended choices and creative opportunities and none of that harsh competitiveness or intense consequences that “level” based games have. Toca Boca hasn’t paid me anything for this review, but I’ve probably sent a small fortune their way and it has been worth it.
On the other end of the spectrum, I recently encountered one of the most hideous apps marketed at children. My daughter, who enjoys the “maker” class of apps that allow her to make virtual brownies, milkshakes, and other digital foods, saw an ad for “My School Dance”. It was free (“freemium” to be exact), and looked harmless enough. Then, I helped to read a few of the screens. I was blown away by the message presented.
As the female character in this virtual high school, she was prompted to initiate a chat with a boy. When she attempted to open the chat, the screen below appeared:
I don’t think I need to explain my horror.
As a free market guy, I get that ads are a necessary evil in order to keep applications inexpensive. I understand the value of a diverse App Store that has something for everyone, even if Apple’s curation policies already keep out a lot of the junk that can be found in Android alternatives. The real message for me is that I need to be a better parent and keep a closer eye on what my kids are seeing and doing on our devices.
What is your take-home message from this?
While my writing over at TeachHub.com, along with the usual end-year chaos that characterizes every classroom at this time of the year, have kept me too preoccupied to share my thoughts in this space very much, track-out break is here and so is some time to write for me.
The right combination of opportunity and inspiration hit me today as I was riding back from a four-day vacation with my family (and my in-laws) in Grand Teton National Park outside Jackson, Wyoming. After flying out to their house in Utah, we drove up in a three-car caravan to some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring land in the entire world. Between being disconnected from civilization (I can’t believe I survived four days with no Edge/3G/WiFi!), being surrounded by my wife’s family, and traveling with two young children, this has been a unique opportunity to break from my usual habits and reflect on my life.
On top of these conditions, it is Father’s Day as I write this on the descent down Highway 89 from Jackson Hole. Sure, it’s an artificial commercialized holiday designed to sell greeting cards and fishing poles, but it has also been pretty successful at making all of us think more about the role of male parents. Perhaps that’s why I find myself considering the impact of my father on who I am today, and my own affect on my son’s development.
A recent review in the LiveScience blog pointed out that in 95% of mammal species the male parent never even meets his offspring. We humans are a rare exception to this rule–an exception with a purpose. While, like most biologists, I am leery of distancing our species from others in our Kingdom, it is also clear that our self-awareness makes us unique. There are so many reasons that we have become the dominant species on the planet, and biology is only one of them. But still, our parental tendencies and the role of fathers in the rise of Homo sapiens can’t be inconsequential. We don’t carry the extensive library of instinctual behaviors that related species possess. With fatherhood comes the responsibility of teaching and nurturing positive behaviors in our children. It’s a gift and a burden that some lesser members of the species choose to neglect.
Next weekend, three generations of men in my family will be together as my father, myself, and my son all spend a few days together. I know that I’ll be more cognizant of the lessons I’ve learned from my dad and the ones I am teaching my son.
I was cleaning out a toy box at home this week, and discovered a card from my 5-year-old’s deck of sight word flash cards. The pairing of words on the front and back seems ill-advised, unless they were designed for Baby Mixalot.
Happy New Year! May all of your decisions this year be either smart of funny.
Some of the most profound learning experiences in my life have come when I have been forced to examine some issue or situation from a new perspective. These lessons have taught me the critical importance of tolerance and of recognizing the various sides of any controversy.
I’ve had one such eye-opening experience over the past several weeks. My oldest child has begun kindergarten at the elementary school that acts as a “sister school” to the middle school at which I teach. He is close by, and yet a world away.
During the first month of school, I have dealt with the numerous and redundant forms that needed to be filled out and the inconvenient open house times. I’ve had to respond to disciplinary problems, and schedule parent-teacher conferences. I’ve annoyed his teacher with unnecessary email and I’ve shown up unannounced at his classroom. In short, I’ve been the kind of parent that has always irritated me as an educator.
The irony hasn’t been lost on me, or on his teacher, and we have discussed my awareness of my oxymoronic behavior. She, in turn, has asked me to give her feedback from a parent’s perspective, informed by my teaching experience. She has at times calmed me down, built me up, and soothed my fears. She has achieved what I have never really attempted–teaching a educator/parent how to be a better parent. Her skill and tact are made all the more amazing when you realize that she has no children of her own. All of her expertise in this regard comes from experience (slightly more than my own number of years in the profession), and it is as impressive as her ability to teach reading and mathematics. I am more than a little embarrassed to admit that I have learned more from my son’s Kindergarten teacher than he has. So far.
And so, I can say humbly that I am a more prepared parent than I was two months ago, and a more aware teacher. And my son hasn’t had any problems in two weeks. Nice work, Ms. B. Now, if we can just straighten out his dad.
Photo credit: iStockphotos.com
What began as appreciation for his Flickr tools (which, by the way, are useless to me now that Flickr is blocked by my school district’s web filters), has shifted to his personal blog about his family.
John Watson has so many projects that listing them all here would do them a disservice. But, I highly recommend subscribing to the feed for his blog called Flagrant Disregard. Most of the posts are just quotes from conversations with his children (ala “Kids Say the Darnedest Things”), but they have had my wife and I laughing in parental empathy for months. One of his recent posts, entitled “On Monkeys” is a great example:
Daughter: Can I get a monkey?
Daughter: Why not?
Me: Monkeys are wild animals.
Daughter: But I could give them a banana and they’d come to me.
Me: But they’re still wild.
Daughter: Are there tame monkeys?
Me: I don’t think so.
Daughter: I wish the president would start a company that trained monkeys.
Me: Now that you mention it, that would explain a lot.