If you’re anything like me as a parent, you want your child to embrace the independence and freedom that summer offers by getting outside, inventing new games, and reading books for fun.  I don’t love the idea of my child spending too much time on technology period, much less during the summer.  But technology has its place when it is “used for good” and I have found a few great tech tools that are contributing to my children’s summer freedom without keeping them tied to a screen all day.  They come especially in handy when the days are rainy or the drives are long.  They are also really helpful when your child is obsessed with, or talented at, technology but needs a little direction to get the most out of their tech time.

Podcasts: when summer vacation means driving to Grandma’s or to a distant campground adventure, preparing for car rides is key.  Even my three-year old asks “are we there yet?” within 15 minutes of the start of our trip.  While I’ve just barely touched the surface when it comes to podcasts for myself, I have been happy to learn that podcasts for kids are starting to become more widely available.  Download a few 15 minutes podcasts onto your phone before the trip and you are equipped with manageable and engaging ways to pass the time between potty trips.  Our favorite is “But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids” by Vermont Public Radio.  This podcast is narrated by a skilled interviewer but is built entirely around questions submitted by kids – things like “Why are there countries?” and “Why is Soccer called Soccer?”

Online Learning: you read that right; not only can you sign up for college classes online, but online courses for kids are now popping up as a way for homeschoolers or families who want extra enrichment to engage their kids in learning.  Outschool was founded by some tech savvy entrepreneurs who combine the innovation of online learning with the marketplace strategy of things like Etsy and AirBnB to create a marketplace of online courses for kids.  Earlier this summer, my son was completely enthralled by a class on bubbles which had him learning from a teacher based in North Carolina with a spread of bubble blowing equipment on our kitchen table.  She cleverly engaged him in the scientific method with questions like “do you think this bubble blown from a square bubble wand will come out square or round?”.

Coding: my son is totally into computers and loves solving puzzles so he was incredibly excited when our local parks and recreation department began offering engineering and coding camps for kids.  We brought the idea home with two cool tools, one of which doesn’t even require screen time!  The first is code.org, an amazing kids-focused website that allows kids to take on progressive levels of coding challenges through their “hour of code” program and also offers coding classes for kids.  They even allow kids to print out certificates saying they completed an “hour of code.”  My seven-year-old loves the challenge and has no problem figuring out how to use it.  If you are avoiding screen time, check out one of the many code-based board games or toys.  We bought my son Code Master for his birthday; he can play on his own or with a friend or parent, and he loves the challenge.

Geocaching or Letterboxing: looking for a technology tool that gets your kids outside on brain-based adventures?  Geocaching and letterboxing have been around for a while, but are recently catching on more as fun activities for kids (they’re a great alternative to Pokemon Go!).  They basically engage kids in a treasure hunt either through the use of GPS coordinates (geocaching) or geography-based clues (letterboxing).  While advanced versions are more appropriate for older kids or adults who want to learn about orienteering, simpler versions are totally appropriate for kids who can follow clues like “20 steps toward the woods from the swingset”.  Where to start?  Geocaching.com offers lots of advice and options when it comes to geocaching with kids, and Atlas Quest is a great place to start for letterboxing (bring a stamp to leave your mark when you find the treasure!).  Both sites help by indicating adventures that are kid appropriate.

Book Writing: when we took my son out of school for a week for a family vacation to a small island, we wanted to assure the teacher that he would still be learning while he was there.  So, we downloaded the Book Creator app onto my tablet and had my son create book documenting our vacation.  He took photos, added colors and graphics, and wrote his own story which he also read aloud in his own voice, and we emailed it to his teacher.  There are lots of choices in apps to create books, a few of which are covered in this article on educatorstecnology.com.  What I love about this project is that it gets your child thinking about art (photography, layout, creative writing, etc.) and how technology can be used to produce it while also exploring a specific subject for their book.

Whatever your choice, I think it’s really important to foster our kids’ fascination with technology while still placing high priority on freedom, creativity, and outside adventure.  It’s a fine balance, and I love that there are so many good tools out there by people who equally value this balance.

How are you using technology this summer?

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