As summer gets closer– at least the part where the kids aren't in school – my panic gets more intense. My two teens are looking forward to having “nothing” to do. And I feel for them. It’s been a long year of math, enforced reading, homework, and high-stakes tests. But what about me? I don’t want to spend my summer chasing kids away from screens and worrying that they are rapidly forgetting all the math and science they worked so hard to cram into their brains. I am picturing the wet blanket I am about to become -- tossing around pat phrases like, “Turn that thing off and go outside!” “Why don’t you read a book instead 144 texts that all say LOL?” -- and I don't like the image. So I’m hatching a series of anti-wasted-summer schemes. Here are a few I’m considering.
Apple Camp is a free three-day session held at the Apple Store. If they are set on sitting in front of computers, at least they could learn some STEM skills and meet some other kids, right? These camps are for kids ages 8–12, though, so mine are too old. But maybe yours would like to work with Apple Store employees to shoot footage, create an original song in GarageBand on an iPad, and learn the ins and outs of iMovie to put it all together in a film on a Mac. At the end of the three days there is an Apple Camp Film Festival where campers debut their masterpieces. Move fast though. These are free and fill up fast. In fact, why not sign up to be notified when registration opens here. Registration opens in June and camp sessions will be held in July and August.
A Tablet Loaded with Learning
I know I will cave in to my teenagers relentless badgering for screen time eventually. So I’m grabbing a tablet and installing the YouTube app on the front page. It’s the first thing they they tap when they look at that screen. But I will subscribe to Steve Spangler Science, (see video above) MinutePhysics, and few other smart channels that specializing in entertaining learning from EDU YouTube. That way, at least some of the time they spend in front of a screen will make them smarter.
Let the Machine do the Nagging
Computers excel at marking time. Teens? Not so much. So I plan to offload some of the pestering to the machines. That way, when two hours – or whatever my kids and I have negotiated – is up, the computer will do the nagging and enforcing. I don’t have to use any of my classic wet-rag phrases or deal with the inevitable argument that follows. So, today, while the kids were at school doing their high-stakes testing, I installed the free Norton Family on all our laptops. Now, I can log on from any computer, tablet, or smart phone I have and set a limit on how long that laptop will let my kids stare at the Internet. If I’m worried about what they are up to online, I can also use it to monitor and block specific sites or categories.
Take Control of the Internet
I also use Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app on my phone to control when they can go online and what sites they visit – at least if they do it through my wireless router. Controlling access this way requires a bit more set up and the right router but it’s a great way to set a bedtime – or a designated outside time. And it gives me so much power! When I say, “Shut that thing off and go outside!” and receive, for my trouble, an argument or whining, I just pull my smart phone out of my pocket and kill the machine – or at least everything that’s interesting on that machine – with a couple of taps. And, just like that, everyone is doing what Mom wants -- even if that means going outside to “do nothing” – just to I’ll turn it back on. Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com. Follow her on Twittter!