Posts in Technology
Technology Can't Fix Your Parenting Problems

I have to tell you, I'm excited about how technology is changing my life. Cars that can detect when someone's in my blind spot, better voice dictation for typing, video chat sessions with my newborn niece that are crystal clear even though we live on the other side of the country, my new noise-cancelling headphones, appointment reminders that sync from my email to my calendar - it's amazing and I'm loving it!

What I don't love is when products are created to give a quick fix to a parenting issue.

Tech + babies & toddlers makes me very skeptical

Want to know how much milk your baby drank in a nursing session? There's a gadget that claims it can do just that. Attach a sensor to your baby's earlobe, and the suck and swallow is recorded in an app.

Can't remember when your baby's diaper was last changed so you'll know when to change it again? You can plug that info into a device that will tell you by the second.   

Need to get your child to brush his teeth? A toothbrush can sing to him, beep, and sync to an iPad to put a star on a rewards chart. 

Disturbed by your toddler waking you up before you're ready to open your weary eyes and face the day? You can install an "ok to wake" clock that trains your toddler not to come wake you up by showing a red light until your pre-set wake time. 

Truth: parenting is super hard!

Babies always seem to poop when you've just gotten everyone out the door. Breastfeeding is awkward and anxiety-ridden for many new moms in the first few months. Most children dislike the feeling of a toothbrush on their teeth. And toddlers battle bedtime and sometimes wake up at the crack of dawn.

Exhausted parents who find that there's an app for that are often swayed by the slick video advertisements of well-rested, happy parents and compliant children all due to some kind of tech-intervention. 

So do they work?

Since children are very receptive to external stimuli, they very well may. And somewhere out there there is a parent and child who would benefit from a product with capabilities like these. My gut instinct says that it would be a rare need.

More truth: If a tech gadget seems to promise compliance from your child, it's probably too good to be true. Because we're raising humans, not robots. And we're the parents. It's _our_ job to set the limits and gently guide our children toward adulthood. If they wake us up too early in the morning, we need to ask ourselves why.

So let's take that last gadget - the “OK to wake clock”.

And let's break down the real problem. 

Here are just a few reasons why children might wake up early in the morning: 

  • Their bodies woke up ready to play!

  • They had a bad dream. :(

  • It's daylight's savings time.

  • They napped too much the day before.

  • They got to bed too late.

  • They are having a developmental growth spurt.

  • They woke up and it was dark...and lonely...and they wanted you.

  • They woke up and it was sunny...and eerily quiet...and they wanted you.

And here are some possible non quick-fix solutions for you: 

  • Help children become more aware of their circadian rhythm by allowing them to sleep and wake with the sun.

  • Trust that they will, in their own time, adjust to a more realistic rhythm that also works in sync with your needs.

  • Talk to them about your expectations before you get them to bed. And when they wake you up too early, be compassionate. Remember - you're the adult.

  • Install darkened curtains or light proof blinds so that the room is darker earlier and stays dark later.

  • Bedtime routines. I'll say it again. Bedtime routines.

  • Make their room accessible for independent wake and sleep as much as possible. Toys that they can play with in a safe environment without you just for a bit while you rouse yourself.

  • Learn how to appreciate the sunrise. This was my solution with my second born, and guess wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I saw so many beautiful pink skies!

  • Go to bed earlier so you're not as cranky when you're awoken earlier.

  • Let your child crawl in bed with you. (Here's another solution that worked brilliantly for me!)

  • Be patient and kind - both to yourself and to your child. These days won't last forever - I promise!

With every gadget that promises a parenting quick fix, we need to ask ourselves: Is this an aid to the emotional needs of the child?

Does it foster independence?

Is it necessary?

Is it the best solution?

Or is it something that gets in the way of my child's natural development or my ability to do my parenting job? 

If the answers to those questions gives you pause - just be patient a little longer and try a few human strategies first.

They've worked for us for thousands of years.

What's another generation got to lose in trying?

TechParentingPIN 1
Montessori Education in the Internet Age

Walk into any quality Montessori school in the world, and you will see some of the most beautifully prepared learning environments imaginable. Wooden materials, carefully arranged shelves, observant teachers.

Chart: Pew Research Center

Chart: Pew Research Center

What you won't find, by and large, is a tech-heavy curriculum.

Though nearly every adult American owns a cellphone (see Pew Research chart), rare is the Montessori school where smartphones, tablets, or computers play a major role.

A Strained Relationship

The lack of computer-based assignments might surprise public school teachers given how gung-ho traditional schools are about technology.

Montessorians, by comparison, have a somewhat less enthusiastic opinion with technology - especially in the early years. In Montessori schools, the amount of technology integration depends on the educational philosophy of the teachers.

Some schools ban all technology, believing that children need to learn with their own eyes and hands and absolutely not while watching a screen. Some schools have a computer in the classroom but only allow it for teachers. Some classrooms have computers in the classroom and allow students to use them for internet research and to practice typing skills.

Occasionally you will find a Montessori classroom that embraces more than that in the elementary years, but at least in the Montessori 0-6 year old scene, you will find a near-absence of the digital. If you are a parent at home exploring apps on your tablet or smartphone, you may see apps for something like "Montessori Math" or "The Pink Tower" (a quintessential Montessori material). 

Don't fool yourself into thinking that if you download this app for your child, he is doing the activity that Montessori developed and adopted into her method. There's a reason for all those beautiful wooden materials.

What Changes, What Doesn't

Aubrey and David Discuss Healthy Technology Use

Maria Montessori was not aware of the enormous technological changes that would occur in the years after her death (1952), but she was adamant that the learning of abstract ideas begin with the child's own hands using concrete objects.

I suspect that Dr. Montessori would approve of some careful and limited use of technology were she alive today. How could she not be amazed by the global social connections? Today, a grandparent might video chat with a faraway grandchild. A parent-to-be might search for tips on preparing the home for a new baby. A student might research the Galapagos Islands not only by reading books but also by watching a video of a family on vacation describing what they see and feel. There are lots of interesting opportunities for us to use technology in a way that enhances our exploration of and connection to the world that most of us see as positive additions to a learning environment.

There is not An App for That

The problem arises when we attempt to replace a valuable hands-on experience with an abstract one too early. Take the pink tower, for example. To an inexperienced eye, the child simply stacks a set of ten cubes of varying sizes into a tower, with the largest on the bottom and the tiniest on the top. An app on a tablet could presumably replace this activity with a virtual representation of pink squares that can be dragged and dropped into position.

A child of preschool age can certainly learn to order these squares by size, but so much is lost in value! When the child carefully lifts each cube, its size is known by a myriad of sensory cues that go far beyond the visual. The shape and size of each smooth side is fully explored by little hands; the weight of each is compared to the next. A misplacement of the next-smallest cube is easily recognizable when the heavier cube on top causes the tower to wobble or fall.

Even the tower itself is subconsciously compared to the child's own body size and the mathematics of cubing in increments of 1 cm each is internalized in order to develop future algebraic thinking. Swiping the pink blocks on an app is about as realistic as a flight simulator is to flying an actual airplane.  

So How Do We Know What's Appropriate? 

No doubt, we have a ton of intriguing technological inventions at our disposal for use with kids, and as parents and teachers, it is up to us to decide how they may or may not fit in with our philosophy of education. We must be especially careful when simply regurgitating tried and true teaching techniques and manipulatives in a virtual format. What looks like the same activity may not actually nurture the child's full engagement of the senses, which is a non-negotiable in any quality material designed for early childhood.

Our children deserve for us to constantly question the educational validity of any of the techy stuff in their environment. There is only one path to collective knowledge of what is helpful or a hinder to a child's development, and that is through continued observation of the children themselves.