My five- and seven-year-old constantly fight over who gets the iPad first. We have one, and they get to use it in tiny doses, usually when I'm at my wit's end. Their favorite app? ScratchJr, MIT's go-to coding tool for kids. They like to code. No. They love to code, like the good little 21st-century humanoids they are. They love coding so much and I am so unwilling to give them their own devices that I decided to try something new. It's also something that sounds so counterintuitive it actually might work: screen-free coding.
<p>Ever plop your kids in front of some purportedly educational screen-based thing because you need 15 minutes of peace? Maybe, like me, you say to yourself, "It's 15 minutes. It's an educational app. It's not so bad. I just need to start dinner." There's nothing wrong with this, in theory. As a parent of two small children, I've learned lots of things. One thing that's helped: <em>Kids love media</em>.</p>
<p>"Do you know what you're looking at?" I ask my five-year-old and seven-year-old when we're on the iPad.</p> <p>"Yeah, yeah," they grumble as they swipe and tap during their 10-minute dip into deviceland. While we peruse pictures of dinosaurs or exploding volcanoes on YouTube or whatever it is that piques their interest, I ask a bunch of questions. Not surprisingly, they never know the answer to my favorite internet-safety question, "How do you know this one's <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/13/youtube-ceo-susan-wojcicki-information-cues-sxsw/" target="_blank">not a joke</a>?"</p>
<p>Contrary to what you might think and hear, apps and screens aren't the best tools for kids to learn STEM concepts, even coding. Why? Innovation, pattern recognition, exploration, experimentation and creation underlie STEM principles. Kids need to manipulate tangible things. It's how they learn. While there are some great apps that supplement STEM learning, the best STEM activities for kids are blended ones -- the ones that require hands-on exploration, screens optional. Those that do require screens, like ones with coding apps, should augment the experience, not be the sole focus. Many of these toys and kits are designed for classroom use but are perfectly adaptable and suitable for home use, too, as my two kids, ages five and seven, will shout from the rooftops (supervised, don't worry).</p> <p>Check out these awesome blended learning STEM kits and toys. They'll have your little inventors ready to apply for their first patent in no time.</p>