A parent’s guide to back-to-school tech for kids
An EdTech consultant and former teacher shares her experience to help parents find the best back-to-school gadgets for kids.
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In her first year at elementary school, we discovered my daughter had dyslexia. One evening while preparing for a spelling test, we were both at our breaking point. She was struggling to spell the words the way I presented them, and I was getting frustrated as I interpreted her struggle as “bored and distracted.”
As an edtech consultant specializing in learning with technology, such as augmented and virtual reality, I remembered a tool called Catchy Words AR. Think Pokemon Go, but for spelling words. The letters virtually “floated” around the room as she virtually grabbed each letter, one by one, to spell the word.
When she finished spelling the words in the correct order, the app celebrated her achievement with fireworks, clapping and cheering. An hour later, I asked her to spell the word again, and she was still able to spell it. Driving her to school the next day, I asked again, and without any delay, she spelled it right.
Why did this app make such a difference? It was a personalized learning experience. First, it got her up and moving, which she enjoyed more than sitting at a table for an hour. My daughter is a kinesthetic learner and loves to be active in her learning experience. Second, it incorporated spatial learning, moving the material from 2D to 3D. Third, she was encouraged to be successful through fun play and celebrated at the completion of the activity.
Students can be more successful when using technology that aligns with their own learning styles and interests. But it can take time to find the right tech, even when you’re an expert. Below, you’ll find a few tips on the ways tech can help support kids as they head back to school.
The best gadgets and tech accessories for back to school
For kinesthetic, or active, learners like my daughter, the GizmoWatch is a great smartwatch for kids. With timers and alarms, a GizmoWatch can help kids stay on track with homework and chores at home. Plus, a built-in step tracker can make active play part of the after-school routine by setting step goals for free time. And two-way calling and text makes it easy to coordinate pickup after school.
Kids are finding this advanced technology to be a cool gadget for school, too. Now available in a variety of shapes and colors, smart speakers can support homework questions, read a story, create music ambiance for concentration or support wholesome sleep routines. Not only are these gadgets for kids delightful, child-friendly smart speakers also have more security settings to guard your child against unwanted access and put your mind at ease.
Many kids get Chromebooks or school-issued laptops, but tablets are a great addition. Tablets use our natural gestures to interact, making the technology especially adaptable for young learners. Depending on your child’s age, look for tablets with good parental control features built into the device.
A smart nightlight
Abrupt and loud alarms are a thing of the past with the new smart light bulb. Waking up gradually to a soft glow—especially at the beginning of the school year—will set the right mood for the entire day.
We live our lives in a continuous state of distraction. Using headphones, kids can shut out noises that would keep them from being productive and on task, as well as reduce stress and anxiety by limiting overwhelming sounds. Kids can also play classical music to keep focus and attention on learning, or listen to audiobooks while following along with the textbook.
How to help kids get the most out of learning with technology
Learning how best to support my daughter Elliana didn’t come easily, but was often found through trial and error. When I noticed her interest in active learning by play, I tried to include more activities that got her up and moving. We got the best results when I helped her notice that she was having fun learning, and why it was fun, so I could find something that matched her needs. The school may also have some insight into children’s learning styles, or you can see if your child is naturally drawn to one of the three listed below.
Understanding children’s learning styles
Visual learner—These learners usually have a knack for drawing, can easily grasp the concept of maps and would rather watch than read something.
Auditory learner—These can pick up on sounds in the background, love to talk things through and may have an interest in music.
Kinesthetic learner—These display good eye-hand coordination, use a lot of physical gestures when they talk and could be described as fidgety when they’ve been sitting too long.
Tech to support children’s learning styles
Tablets and laptops—Visual learners can use videos and tutorials to learn more about a challenging homework assignment.
Smart speakers—Auditory learners can listen to recordings and podcasts.
Gaming—Consider online games for kinesthetic learners in a subject they might be struggling with.
How to find online learning resources
When I first noticed the Catchy Words AR app, I discounted it as a hangman-type game in augmented reality. I didn’t see the value until I saw it in action with my daughter. Finding the right app begins with understanding your child’s strengths and interests and how they can use those talents to tackle their struggles.
Identify where your child is struggling. Talk with them about what is difficult in class and where they want to be more confident.
Identify a resource that utilizes your child’s interests, such as art or sports. When a child feels confident in a skill, they are more willing to take on a new challenge.
Keep the resources changing, as children will get bored with the same activities. (And check out Verizon’s new Welcome Unlimited plan to help cover the costs of more connected devices in one family.)
Finally, back-to-school tips for parents: Keeping kids safe online
Now that you know how some at-home tech can help support your child, it’s also worth taking a closer look at the parental controls on those devices.
Consider changing up the wake word for smart devices. Consider connecting these devices to a family account, such as Amazon Kids for Alexa devices or Digital Wellbeing for Google smart speakers, which pull from a library of kid-appropriate content.
Tablets have parental control settings on the device. You can limit screen time for kids, or Wi-Fi access—for example, 3–3:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also control whether they make in-app purchases. And kid-friendly tablets are designed with a child’s safety in mind.
VR and gaming
Even with educational apps, it’s important to review the parental controls and dismantle chat options if applicable.
Now that my youngest daughter is in middle school, she has learned how to vocalize her individualized needs to perform at her best. While not every circumstance will always fit her exact preference, she is aware of her strengths and how to utilize them. She still reaches out for support if she can’t solve the issues on her own, but we’ve walked this journey this far together, and I know we are in a great place for the future.
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