By Sarah Vander Schaaff
Watch out, there are some new bloggers hitting the scene. They blog about soccer, gymnastics and toys. And they are really good at integrating photos into their posts.
And they are six years old.
When I was in first grade, I think my primary tools were pencils, some paste, and maybe a very blunt pair of scissors.
My first grader types on a Mac and reads and comments on her classmates’ posts using an iPad.
Sometimes it feels like the educational environment our children are in moves at the speed of light. And it begs the question: is this a good thing?
I am not prepared to argue the deeper question about screen time. Many parents I’ve spoken with bring up a really good point: does screen time at school or doing homework count towards the “max” we all worry about? And, then there is the insightful comment I head from a lecture with Princeton Professor Sam Wang about the opportunity cost of the use of screens. What are children not doing when they are using them; and at what cost to their development?
Remember, I said, I wasn’t going to talk about those points. Not in this post. It was a tantalizing digression, but deserves its own time. Let me, instead, talk more about the bigger shift that blogging in first grade speaks to:
- Everything our children create has the potential to be shared and seen by a larger audience: This is true whether parents post images on Facebook or the school grants family members access to the class blog pages. While I do worry that technology allows us all to rush past the thoughtful and deliberate nature of old-school compositions, something new is gained. It’s a sense of connection to others, in the best scenarios, and a sense of community. Many parents read and commented on my daughter’s blog, and I read and commented on the blogs of her classmates. We expressed interest in the group, not only our own kids.
- Feedback matters: Digital feedback is long lasting and it’s also public. Maybe this is the flip side to the benefits of community. My first grader is aware of how many people comment on her posts. I’ve had to talk to her about the idea of intrinsic motivation. We write, we post, we share. But it cannot be, and it can never be, about how many “likes” we get. My fourth grader’s class has had to address this in their online class work, and the program they use helps facilitate the process. It keeps certain comments from view until after an individual has expressed his or own original idea. But it’s the dialogue lead by her teacher, and other adult instruction and conversation, that drives home the part about civility and the understanding that one’s core value is not derived from the number of “thumbs up” on a post.
- Essential skills shift: The first graders have been invited to type short entries using their “first grade spelling”. Had they hand-written these stories, it might have been an exercise in fine motor skills and handwriting. Instead, they typed and my daughter read her classmates’s typewritten entries. But then, she stumbled upon the microphone on my iPad and figured out the best way to comment on each entry was to speak and let the device transcribe her message. I sat with her and proofed the transcription. We corrected words. We added an extra “o” to the word “to” to imply it meant “also” and we added punctuation. She learned a lot. It wasn’t how I’d have thought to teach particular skills, but they were the skills she’ll need and already uses.
- They want to model us: I cannot describe the feeling of satisfaction and pride my first grader had when telling me about her blog, or after she had the chance to read and leave a comment for a friend. Could it be that she knows her mother spends her days writing blogs? That she sees her father reading on his Kindle? Could it be she knows that the grown ups in her world communicate via text, email, and online? Of course. It’s in children’s nature, and it’s essential, that they strive to grow. Unless I’m willing to shift the paradigm of how I communicate, I’d better be willing to embrace and shape, in the best way possible, her following suit.
- Finally, the most powerful reminder of the value in this form of work came in a poster outside the technology teacher’s classroom. It said, “We don’t just browse, click, chat and game. We invent, we design, we create, we build, we share.”
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Read Sarah’s two blogs in The Washington Post On Parenting Blog.