Technology and Natural Learning

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Welcome to the October 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Technology

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their families' policies on screen time.


My 6-yr-old playing the "Stack The States" iPad app
A friend with an inquisitive, unschooled four-year-old asked me recently how I manage the incessant questions from such curious little ones. Do I keep a running list of these questions? Do I try to answer each one in turn? My response? Google. 

With a world of answers literally at our fingertips, answering questions and expanding knowledge have never been quicker or easier. When I think about the many questions I must have had as a child, I know that a lot of them went unanswered or were answered so long after the question was asked that they became irrelevant. Today, my children can ask a question, have it answered thoroughly in real-time, and often find that the question sparks additional interest or inquiry, leading to a trip to the library or museum or some other avenue for further exploration. Technology is the most important tool of our modern culture and we should take full advantage of all it offers for education, information, communication, collaboration, documentation, and entertainment.

As Boston College psychology professor and self-directed learning advocate, Peter Gray, writes in his book, Free to Learn, and on his blog: "The computer is, without question, the single most important tool of modern society. Our limiting kids' computer time would be like hunter-gatherer adults limiting their kids' bow-and-arrow time. Children come into the world designed to look around and figure out what they need to know in order to make it in the culture into which they are born." Now, Gray makes the point that hunter-gatherer parents keep the poison arrows out-of-reach of their children, just as modern parents should limit certain technology or media that we deem inappropriate or potentially dangerous, but helping our children use this important tool to answer their questions, explore their interests, and become more familiar with their world is a worthwhile process.

What about the kids who would sit and watch tv or play video games all day? In most cases, children who over-use technology or use it inappropriately do not have access to other stimulating resources or opportunities, and are using technology as an escape from an overly-scheduled, adult-driven, school-centered life. As Gray states: "At school and in other adult-dominated contexts they may be treated as idiots who need constant direction, but in the game they are in charge and can solve difficult problems and exhibit extraordinary skills." If children (indeed all of us) are given true freedom to learn, in non-coercive settings, surrounded by stimulating resources and access to friends, they will not abuse technology or use it as an escape, and it will become the important learning complement it has the power to be.

So what does technology and natural learning look like for our family? Mostly, we use technology (such as iPhones, iPods, iPads, and computers) to answer questions, gather information, communicate with others, explore interests, listen to songs and stories (especially Sparkle Stories), enjoy educational applications, and watch occasional movies or shows. We don't have a television or cable in our home, so in some ways our technology media is self-limiting, but with Netflix, iTunes, and YouTube we can enjoy and learn from media without the commercialism.

The key is to embrace technology as an important tool for natural learning, help our children recognize its power and use it appropriately, and allow it to help them answer their questions and expand their knowledge of this vast and ever-changing world.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (list will be updated throughout the day on October 8):

  • Has Technology Taken Away Childhood? — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama worries that technology is intruding on the basic premise of childhood - active play in all forms! Join her as she takes a brief look at how play has changed as technology becomes more integrated into the daily lives of our children.
  • Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Technology — Jenn at Adventures Down Under describes her children's love of screen time and how her family implements their philosophy and policies on technology.
  • Kids Chores for Tech PrivilegesCrunchy Con Mommy shares how tying chore completion to iPad privileges worked in her house to limit screen time and inspire voluntary room cleaning!
  • Screens — Without the benefit of her own experience, sustainablemum explains her family's use of technology in their home.
  • Screen Time - The Battle of Ideologies — Laura from Laura's Blog explains why she is a mom who prioritizes outdoor natural play for her kids but also lets them have ample screen time.
  • The Day My iPhone Died — Revolution Momma at Raising a Revolution questions the role technology plays in her life when she is devastated after losing her phone's picture collection from her daughter's first year.
  • Finding our Technological Balance — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she finds balance between wanting her daughter to enjoy all the amazing technology available to her, without it overwhelming the natural parenting she's striving for.
  • Raising kids who love TV — Lauren at Hobo Mama sometimes fears what children who love screentime will grow up to be … until she realizes they'll be just like her.
  • No Limits on Screen Time? Is that Natural? — Susan at Together Walking shares misconceptions and benefits of having no limits on technology and screen time in their home.
  • Screen Time — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares what is currently working (and what hasn't) regarding screen time in her household.
  • Positive Use of Technology with Kids — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her family's experiences with early technology, shares helpful resources from around the blogosphere, and speculates on what she'd do as a parent with young children today.
  • why i will never quit you, TV — How Emma of Your Fonder Heart came to terms with the fact that screen time is happening, and what balance looks like between real and virtual life for both her toddler AND herself.
  • Technology Speaks — Janet at Our Little Acorn finds many uses for technology - including giving her child a voice.
  • 5 Ways to Extend Children's Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities — Looking for a way to balance screen time with other fun learning experiences? Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares 5 fun ways to take your child's love of favorite shows or video games and turn them into creative educational activities.
  • What parents can learn about technology from teachers — Douglas Blane at Friendly Encounters discusses how technology in schools enhances children's learning, and where to find out more.
  • 5 Tips for a Peaceful Home — Megan of the Boho Mama and author at Natural Parents Network shares her favorite 5 tips for creating a peaceful home environment.
  • Technology and Natural Learning — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling writes about the importance of technology as a tool for natural, self-directed learning.
  • Babies and TechnologyJana Falls shares how her family has coped, changed their use of, relied on, and stopped using various forms of technology since their little man arrived on the scene
  • Kids and Technology — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis talks about the benefits of using technology with her preschooler, and includes a few of their favorite resources.
  • Using Technology to Your Advantage: Helping Children Find Balance — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how technology can be used or abused and gives a few tips to help children learn balance.


  1. I love this! I certainly use google all the time to answer my own questions so it makes total sense to use it to answer your little one's questions too. We're not there yet, but I know that we'll be doing this soon.

  2. I agree with you that computers are an invaluable (truly, invaluable) learning tool. We are constantly looking up answers, exploring more, etc. And thank you so much for pointing me in the direction of Peter Gray's blog - I'm scurrying off to read more of his stuff now!
    ~Dionna @

  3. I think you hit it exactly right. The problem is children who go to traditional schools who do not have any time to explore going home and sitting in front of tv shows and video games and doing nothing else. As long as children have ample time to do other things (imagine, play, real work, interact in real time with people) technology becomes another tool in their arsenal. Although we do not have a TV or cable in our house; my children use computers, Netflix, PBS kids, and You Tube, google, and some educational apps that are on my iPhone. We do participate in screen free week; just as once a year for a month we participate in "October unprocessed" and eat NO processed food. We do this because as with all great tools sometimes they can be over used and a once a year full break allow us as a family to reassess where it is in importance in our lives and how we use or misuse it (it's usually me misusing/over using it!)

    I also wonder about as they grow older. There is something true about the use of social media changing the way we interact with each other; and how that affects our middle school/ high school kids. When children are this age they are trying out lots of different ways to be; and the real time personal connection that comes from that (Louis CK said it well in his rant that has been all over facebook- though I don't agree that it's ruining our society; but he made good points) text messages and facebook just don't have that same feedback. I also wonder about the world our young adults live in where there is CONSTANT communication and feedback. How can we give them (especially our extroverts who may not be able to self regulate) space to be with themselves? I don't have kids that age so I don't know how I'm going to respond. Will my 10 year old have a smart phone? Probably not. But I don't know- I don't even know what kind of technology I will have to be thinking about at that point. I just know I will remember what you said about the poison arrows (though in technology the poison arrow is so subjective! That's hard!)

  4. Wow, the analogy of the hunter-gatherers really changed my perspective. Thanks for sharing! I'm going to need to reasses and reevaluate my attitudes towards my kids' use of tech as they grow up. :)

  5. yes, i love it! now my phone's latest searches are... why are harleys so loud...what is the strongest thing in the world... what do you do if you see a polar bear... what do you do if see a black bear...what is a birch conch... so much fun!! great perspective as usual kerry!

  6. Love that quote: "Our limiting kids' computer time would be like hunter-gatherer adults limiting their kids' bow-and-arrow time."

    We don't limit screen time, though I do need to use distractions and enticements away since my older son in particular (unschooled, pretty laid-back, self-directed lifestyle) is nevertheless rather intense about things. But I'm definitely not someone who feels guilty or fearful (or at least, I try not to) about technology and screen time — it's the world we inhabit, as you say, and our children will be living in it.

  7. Kerry, you have a knack for putting into words exactly what my gut is trying to tell me. Thank you for another enlightening post!

  8. *slow clap*

    Thank you for this. I will definitely be sharing. I love the balance you have struck and your philosophy behind it.

  9. I love your post and agree wholeheartedly with you! Children are quite capable of self-regulating their needs, given a rich environment in which to learn and explore (and it doesn't have to cost a lot). Technology can give answers and help facilitate that love of learning that already exists.

  10. We limit "junk food" screen time, but not other types.