Why We’re Tech-free in a Tech-heavy World
It may come as a surprise to most to learn that technology hinders development, especially in the early years. Yes, even that Leapfrog game that says “educational” all over it and has a gold seal of approval by some company you’ve never heard of, but convinced yourself means something, is the antithesis to learning. It’s important to note for the sake of this post that by technology I’m referring to screens, phones, iPads, electronic devices and even battery operated toys.
Rule of Thumb: A toy should not do anything. The child should do with the toy.
Albert Einstein noted the infant is born with more neurons in its brain than there are stars in the galaxy. When these neurons are excited, there’s a firing and rewiring that occurs as a result which builds the brain, strengthens neuropathways, and readies the brain for abstract concepts. An electronic device or self-proclaimed “educational” program only excites one part of the brain- the part it was designed to. The child looks at the screen and presses “A” for the sound “ah” and sees a picture of an apple. Instantly, there’s a chime or faux applause to congratulate the child on an action a lab rat could do with proper training and the child learns a severely limited view of the letter A and the sound it makes. There’s also a dopamine rush from the excessive mechanical praise that inspires the child to return to the game, or the toy, again and again for the same rush. But, the letter A does not only say “ah”. In fact, sometimes it’s silent, sometimes it’s long and it takes new form depending on font. None of this has any value to the child accept the approval they’re receiving from the software.
Contrarily a child is building a beanstalk out of beans and draws a large “J” with hands and feet to represent Jack and hears the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. They are creating with their hands, listening to a tale with both their ears and their hearts and later they sing a song about Jack and Jill and they begin making connections between letters and words and stories and songs. They’re learning with their head, heart, and hands simultaneously, therefore activating various parts of the brain and exciting the neurons to do what they do best- fire and rewire!
Technology can only take a child as far as the programmer has gone. Even games meant to inspire imagination by allowing children to design characters and imaginary worlds is limited to the imagination of the programmer and the computer system. A child will pick their character clothing, weapons, shelters, foods from a pre-determined drop-down menu rather than sit down with colored pencils and blank sheets of paper and stretch the limits of their imagination beyond anything an adult can comprehend. JR Tolkien designed Middle Earth and parallel universes with their own rules, languages, species and even complex histories without the help, or hindrance, of technology. He became one of the greatest authors of all time having nothing but his mind and time to create.
Its also important to note that many of the top tech CEOs in the world send their kids to tech-free schools, many Waldorf schools. Why? Because they know that building the brain through play and exploration is much more valuable than being in front of screens all day. They know that the tech world will be lightyears different by the time their child is grown and launched into the professional world and would rather their child be well rounded, kind, and have a variety of skills to draw from than learn to code using what will be dinosaur technology in the blink of an eye. Tech-free creates techie. A tech free child is likely to have the brain power to run circles around their tech-heavy peers when it comes time to apply for colleges or careers. How many marbles will it take to fill up the Astrodome? A techie kid will likely want to google the answer or download a trivia app, but a tech-free kid knows how to think critically and find a creative solution to solving a problem.
As a school administrator and educator I can say without a doubt that today’s children are falling drastically behind in their physical wellbeing as babies of the tech era compared to generations before them. I’m shocked at how many struggle to climb trees, run a mile, ride a bike, do hopscotch without becoming winded and lack rhythm required for poetry or music composition. More parents are rushing out to buy the video game that inspires movement or turn on the TV show that has the kids bounce and jump along, but these are not natural movements nor are they intrinsically motivated. Children need as much free, unstructured time outdoors to run, jump and climb as they do reading and working mathematical equations. There’s value in using the whole body in learning like skip counting by tossing bean bags in a circle, doing jumping jack multiplication, building structures from the ground up and laying in the snow staring at snowflakes observing their patterns. Yes, if you came by Epoch campus on a weekday you’d likely see kids outside playing. This may come as a shock, but we believe play is healthy for children. Write that down.
One of the many criticisms of Waldorf education is that it’s tech-free. Yes, we use hand crank pencil sharpeners, hand mixers and whisks, we knead dough with our hands and we use shovels instead of snow blowers, but there is value in some technology when used correctly. Using an app to teach your child to play the piano or learn a foreign language can be helpful. Perhaps you’ve discovered Sparklestories or your child listens to a story read aloud on the way to school- these are all great in moderation. But, remind yourself that exciting neurons with rich sensory experiences and giving your child space to explore and create is the ultimate goal. An extended childhood is the secret to a healthy adulthood!