One step ahead of being outsmarted

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2012, 12:00am


As a mother who carefully controls how much time her children spend in front of televisions and computers, it has come as quite a surprise to me, and I think to my children as well, just how much I have embraced today's smartphones and tablet devices.

I can schedule my life on them, and easily keep in contact with friends. They also allow me to juggle three children by myself in the early hours of a Sunday morning, when my husband is away on a business trip and my helpers are about to leave for their day off.

I can load the tablet up with some brain box apps and get us all sorted for the day ahead safe in the knowledge that my children are learning and interacting, rather than simply watching.

These devices ensure that I can safely survive a reasonably long MTR train journey with three little ones in tow and without the need for heavy books, games and other goodies to keep them all occupied. On the tablet, they can read, listen, play and learn; while I jiggle a fractious baby on my knee.

I have been helped in this guilt-free existence because my eldest child's primary school now uses tablets in the classroom some of the time. We have the same apps downloaded at home, so when he is on them in the house, there's no need for me to feel guilty - it's almost like homework. We once spent an hour exploring videos online about life cycles.

Another time, as we munched through a bowl of pistachio nuts, my eldest child asked me where the nuts came from and what the plant they grew on looked like. So we looked it up instantly and explored the Middle East on a virtual map as we followed the path of pistachio plants across the globe.

And while we still love to spend rainy afternoons exploring our local library, we don't have to make a trip there just to find out how tall sunflowers can grow, where the fish in the lake in the park go in the winter, or how big or small a hummingbird's egg is.

It's so easy to navigate smartphones and tablets that my children are able to explore them independently.

My three-year-old daughter frequently improves the organisation of all the apps and I am yet to figure out how she does it. And my son responds to spelling tests and other literacy tests much better using a tablet or smartphone. Why not? At five years old he is expected to be able to use a computer, so why not these devices too?

I still carefully control how much time they spend on them a day, and I know they can never replace hands-on learning. We still enjoy visiting libraries and museums, and we still spend hours poring over books on dinosaurs, insects or sea creatures. As a writer, the thought of a world without real books is just too sad to contemplate.

But their alternatives - these 'smart' devices - are ultimately the way of the future. They will continue to be part of how we learn, interact, work and play; and as their influence and use expands, I think it is important that my children know how to fully utilise them.

These devices, and what they are capable of doing, represent a world of people who think big; have outside-the-box, creative ideas; and do whatever is takes to make these ideas a reality. It's a world all of our children should be part of.

I am quite looking forward to our next 12-hour flight with all three children. Armed with a tablet each, I shouldn't hear anything from them for the whole flight - not a peep. Which means I might just get the chance to work my way through quite a few real books. Bliss.

Rebecca Tomasis is a mother of three and was co-winner of the inaugural Proverse Prize for unpublished writers