Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Investing in Your Child’s Future

I am frequently very interested in the technology and ideas that go into devices used by children. That’s not to say that I feel a child should spend 24/7 plugged into an electronic device. But, in an economy that stresses connectivity and mobility more and more in its workers, children need to start learning how these devices work and what they offer much earlier in life.

So, what then would be the greatest tech investment for a child? For a long time, the answer would have been a new computer. Where you put that computer and what you allow your child to do on it are personal decisions, but having at least one desktop accessible in the home for surfing the Internet, writing homework assignments and maintaining contact with family and friends is a must.

But, more and more, the trend is turning away from having the newest desktop or laptop technologies in front of our children and more towards mobile devices. There are a few reasons for this.

First, children can more directly relate to a touchscreen mobile device. They can carry it and instead of using a keyboard and mouse – slightly abstract concepts for inputting data – they can use their finger, something most children excel at.

For all these reasons and more, it makes sense to start a child off with a tablet computer to acclimate themselves to the Internet, email, and other mobile systems that they will be using for the rest of their lives. More than that, there are apps that make a tablet computer even more effective for things like learning mathematics and reading, or simply for reading picture books.

Of course, for those not interested in spending hundreds of dollars to watch their child play with a Galaxy Tab box or drop a Xoom on the floor, there are companies developing less expensive, more durable tablets for children. Unfortunately, these devices tend to dumb things down a bit. We have a habit of making assumptions about just how little our children can understand when using a tablet. In most cases, they can get a lot more out of the devices if we’re willing to provide open access to more advanced operating systems.

I’d be interested to see a company start developing Android tablets for children that are specialized in terms of durable hardware but not dumbed down to the point of inoperability for anyone over the age of 6 or 7. Imagine a child growing up with a tablet that can adjust and adapt with them, showcasing new features and unlocking new opportunities as they learn in school. These are the skills they will need in the decades to come – it makes sense that we should be laying the groundwork as early as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t endorse turning a child away from outdoor activities or team sports as pass times – everything should be done in moderation. But, access and mobility early in life will give children the edge they need as they age to be better at nearly everything they put their minds too. 

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