On Parenting: Using Technology to Give Your Kids a "Head Start"

Parents can give their kids a "head Start" toward their education by using modern technology, circumventing the negative aspects of the Internet
    While it's true that there have never been more educational options and opportunities than there are today, it can also be said that it has never been more difficult for parents to be certain they're making the right educational choices for their kids.  Violence, sex, drugs, unethical teachers, crime--all on top of an already back-sliding academic standard--make public schools less and less attractive.  Home schooling has become the informed alternative for tens of thousands of families across the country--with very impressive results--but teaching kids at home is a bigger commitment than many parents are in a position to make.  And then of course, there are plenty of private institutions.  But while you're busy weighing the pros and cons of each academic option and planning your child's "formal education," valuable time that could be applied to their early mental development is lost forever.

     The focus on what preschool or in what school system to place our kids makes us tend to overlook the golden opportunity the first "formative" months and years present to introduce our children to the "principles" of learning--the foundation on which all further knowledge rests.  We forget that the time before they begin formal education (pre-birth -- 4 years) is just as valuable to their overall development as the years to follow--and many psychologists would say, more.  And considering the air of instability currently surrounding many institutions of learning (just follow the news), and the superiority of many education systems around the world (check into the Japanese education system if you dare), we really can't afford to wait until our kids are of school age to begin teaching them.  And unless you can afford to send your kids to a chic "pre" pre-school (which few of us can), or provide private tutors, the informed thing to do is to implement an educational system ourselves, right at home.  And as early as possible. If you've consulted any of the innumerable child-rearing manuals on the shelves, then you already know that even the experts can't agree on the best approach to educating kids. Some schools of thought rely on a child's natural inclination to mimic; others stress that every life experience invariably shapes a child's perception.  One of the more sensible and logical approaches is called "scaffolding" in which a child's starting level of knowledge is first accessed, then serves as the starting point for adding on.  (You may be surprised to discover how much a kid may know about a subject even before he or she begins formal instruction.)  But by and large, most educators agree that repetition is the key to instilling information.  A child can grasp any idea or concept, no matter how conceptually difficult, if it is introduced and re-introduced repeatedly over time.  And this principle can provide parents a simple and effective way to instill some valuable educational tools in their kids' learning circuitry.  By designing a simple and easy-to-implement educational program utilizing this principle, you can give your kids the "head start" they deserve, and will ultimately need to compete in the 21st century. When you consider that we live in an era virtually dependent on audio and video reproduction (CDs, DVDs, computers, Internet, and other gadget technology), reproduction is a virtual given.  And you'd be surprised the creative ways this can be applied if you set your creative juices to it. 

     For example.  Many psychologists believe that children establish many of their learning patterns while still in utero.  Yes, the sounds your baby comes in contact with before he or she is born may establish the neuro pathways they'll use later in life to learn.  So in theory, if your baby is taking in information while still in the womb, why not send in some worthwhile data?  I began experimenting with this concept about 5 months into my wife's pregnancy.  I recited the alphabet and numbers 1--100 onto CDs which I then played for our baby via my wife's belly.  Whenever she was relaxing around the house, I would place the speaker of a small CD player to her stomach and let the CD play over and over.  While it's impossible to monitor how a pre-natalian is responding to sound, my wife believes our baby took on a much different "mood" when being aurally stimulated.  Beginning with this method during pregnancy, I continued this audio approach for the next few months, switching to visual stimulation via DVDs shortly after birth. Just by visiting my local library, a few retail chains, and the Internet, I discovered a whole world of sight- and sound-stimulating videos made specifically for educating children: Sesame Street, We Have Tales, Richard Scarry, and countless other programs that were in essence, entertaining tutorials that inspire babies to talk, sing, and before too long, to stand and move to music.  Rather than just stick our baby in front of the TV (the electronic babysitter), we presented her with visual and aural stimulation that was both entertaining and educational.  And judging by the early cognitive progress she made, we believe this approach was an unqualified success.  And in that we established this learning process so early in our baby's development, it was a natural progression to educational CDs, DVDs, and Internet turotials as she got older.  (There is an endless selection of exceptional entertaining and educational programming out there.)  And the best part of this approach is that most people already have this technology in their homes (often being misused), most of these educational programs are very inexpensive or can be borrowed, and many can be downloaded from the net for free.  (I contacted several video manufacturers and received a bunch of free programs just for the asking.)  Also, this system allows you to repeat the information over and over (improving the chances of it becoming ingrained), progress at a speed in keeping with your child's individual ability to learn, control what they intake, and should you have thoughts about home schooling, this can be a great way of establishing the proper learn-at-home atmosphere.  And of course as new technology becomes available, you can easily adapt it to continue this approach to learning--indefinitely. Several years ago I introduced this program to several isolated communities in Arizona for which home schooling was the only option--with amazing results.  Feel free to contact me should you need any other pointers.  jrcoffey@mail.usf.edu.

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Mark Cruz
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Posted on Apr 21, 2012