Preparing our kids for a tech-focused future

family using tablet together

Have you noticed that your kids are incredible trouble-shooters and consumer product connoisseurs? Kids these days are discerning, tech-savvy consumers who are eager to adapt to new technologies constantly thanks to smart devices and STEM-based apps and programming. To put it nicely, they make consumer-review diehards of the past look like amateurs! Our kids are already smarter than us, so here’s how we can make them even smarter than that.

What kids like vs. what parents want

I recently sat down with my four-year-old twins and asked them to show me their favorite apps and smart-toys on their tablets. Within a few seconds, it became glaringly obvious that our definitions of “smart-toys” couldn’t have been more opposite.

Instead of going straight to the “Mommy-approved” apps I had downloaded to prepare them for kindergarten (i.e. PBS Kids’ Cyberchase and Nick Jr’s Beyond the Backpack), they zoomed through a gazillion unboxing videos on YouTube Kids. I watched in amazement as they adeptly swiped right and left desperately retracing their digital footprints back to one of their recent obsessions; Ryan’s Toy Review. If you’re not familiar with this popular channel, Ryan is an adorable 7-year-old boy who happened to earn a cool $22 million last year reviewing and promoting toys. Each video boasts millions of views. Kid YouTubers are no joke, and neither is the appetite that kids have for learning and entertainment.

At the time of publication, this video from 2017 has amassed nearly 14 million views.

While my kids and I agree Ryan’s videos are fun and entertaining, his channel is a far cry from being the mecca of STEM-based “smart toys”. As someone who’s heavily invested in the future of tech (disclosure: I recruit talent for tech-based startups and produce a podcast with tech as a main focus), it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a strong desire to prepare my children (and yours) to live, learn and work in a more connected world.

On top of that, more and more of our children are learning to code well before they even learn to tie their shoes, and for good reason. Coding teaches problem-solving and creativity, not to mention the fact that they’ll have a better understanding of how technology is created and its implications in the future.

Code is not a simple language to be learned in order to ensure employment, but rather a complex man-made tool for shaping the world.

Tomi Dufva, Mikky Dufva (2016)
Metaphors of code – Structuring and broadening the discussion on teaching children to code

Much of the discussion around teaching children programming language revolves around the prospect of future employment, but it’s important to think of coding more broadly. Tomi and Mikku Dufva wrote in their paper, Metaphors of code—Structuring and broadening the discussion on teaching children to code, that “Code is not a simple language to be learned in order to ensure employment, but rather a complex man-made tool for shaping the world. In other words, code is seen as an instrument that creates and changes our everyday behaviour and practices1.”

The education of the future

I’m committed in preparing our kids to live alongside technology and to be responsible consumers and potential developers. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently announced their long-term plans to firmly support STEM-based learning initiatives in the U.S., as they believe this will be a key driver of our nation’s economic development and ability to innovate.

That said, I’ve become obsessed with exposing my kids to STEM content that is practical and engaging for our whole family. Below is a short list of highly-reviewed apps and products that are packed with loads of fun and learning for the entire family:

  • SpheroEdu: An interactive, STEM + Arts (STEAM) hub designed for all stakeholders — students, parents, educators — to use in conjunction with their award-winning Sphero Robots, brand-new Specdrums and other accessories.
  • codeSpark Academy: Visual drag & drop coding platform designed for 4-10 year-olds (and parents too); no reading required.
  • Netflix and chill with a new STEM-based series, Brainchild: My favorite part of this series is the producer’s decision (who happens to be Pharrell Williams) to cast Sahana Srinivasan as a host that embodies my version of next-gen STEM: female, a person of color and well-rounded leader.  
  • Looking to learn on the go? Brains On! is an award-winning podcast about science with the whole family in mind. Not only does each episode focus on real questions submitted by kids, but the podcast also features a new kid co-host every week alongside Molly Bloom.
  • Starlight: A fun app that allows you and your kids to learn about the night sky through interactive technology.

In case you’re like me and find yourself resisting the smart-toy/STEM app frenzy because you fear someone could be spying on you or your little ones; there are resources that analyze smartphone apps for mobile privacy and security.

TL;DR Parental Protip: There’s a whole lot that goes into raising “smart kids”.

Requirement #1: smart parents; #2: carefully read reviews of kid-tested, parent/teacher approved tech that promises to educate and engage your children and #3: do NOT let your precocious little ones watch YouTube Kids unattended!

Further Reading

  1. Metaphors of code – Structuring and broadening the discussion on teaching children to code. Thinking Skills and Creativity. Volume 22. 107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2016.09.004.

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We aim to inform and inspire through thoughtful research, responsible reporting, and clear, unbiased writing, and to create a platform for a diverse group of innovators to bring multiple perspectives.

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