My Tech Goes Home Story
written by Dan Noyes
My daughter, who is now a wonderfully vocal and precocious six-year old, refused to speak when she was little. No words and very few sounds at all. She just decided not to grace us with her beautiful voice.
As part of a nonprofit that espouses the opportunities that technology can bring, I decided to introduce her to a tablet filled with apps designed to practice speech and early literacy skills. It did not take long before she was reciting the alphabet and making more animal sounds than I can remember. I don’t pretend that technology is the sole reason she overcame whatever was preventing her from expressing herself, but I believe it helped. And it gave me a tangible action plan.
This story is part of the reason I am so passionate about our program for young children and their families: Tech Goes Home Early Childhood.
Tech Goes Home (TGH) is a Boston-based initiative empowering communities to access and use digital tools to overcome barriers and advance lives. One of our four programs, TGH Early Childhood, involves young children and their parents/caregivers learning to use mobile apps for early language, literacy, and STEAM skill-building. Families practice early learning strategies and discuss challenges and opportunities in parenting with technology. Each course is 15 hours and taught by an early education specialist. When completed the family gets a new iPad loaded with educational apps, all for $50. In three years, nearly 500 families have completed this training.
Since launch we’ve learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t in running a digital literacy program for families with young children. We have also received honest and helpful feedback from families and educators. Here are five lessons learned and pieces of advice:
- Do not TELL families what they need, ASK them what they need. Our experience shows that when families have input into topics covered, we see increased engagement and more powerful outcomes. Families know the issues that they need to address. Our role is to provide them resources that help them do so.
- Discuss screentime in a way that is respectful of reality. It bothers me when I see people writing articles that chastise caregivers for letting their kids use devices “as babysitters.” The fact is that for many parents, especially single parents, getting time to do the dishes or pay bills or even take a breath, is a struggle. If letting their children watch Sesame Street on their phone or play a math game on their tablet gives parents a moment to decompress, do not make them feel guilty for doing so.
- Emphasize the importance of TALKING with their children. Apps are often single-person focused, but many of the ones that we recommend can be collaborative, encouraging conversation. The “30 million word gap study” by psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley showed that children from lower-income families hear 30 million fewer words than children from higher-income families by the time they are 4 years old.
- Try to keep an educational-only device. The first time we ran an early childhood course, some of families logged into their personal accounts on the devices and hundreds of junk apps were automatically downloaded. Since that time, we have encouraged caregivers to create separate accounts that they will use only with the children. This will ensure that the account and device are safe for use.
- Become intimately familiar with Common Sense Media. Across all TGH programs we highlight more than 100 resources for participants and this might be my favorite. It offers parent-friendly reviews and advice on every sort of media consumed by kids today. I recommend to parents that whenever a child wants a new app/book/movie etc, go to CSM, set the parameters that you feel are appropriate for your child, and then let them pick anything from the list. This gives the child the freedom to choose, but within the boundaries you set.
Watch “Our Story” at Tech Goes Home
Dan Noyes is the Co-CEO and Chief Wrangler at Tech Goes Home, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower vulnerable communities to access and use digital tools to overcome barriers and advance their lives. Dan has been involved with TGH since 2002 and on staff since the summer of 2010. After spending several years as a Legislative Aide to a U.S. Congressman in Washington DC, he returned to Boston as the Technology Director at Fenway High School.