Artsy-Techy: Creative Technology for Engaging Kids

May 24, 2010

While I was doing my best to chillax this weekend, Ben Blair worked hard to keep the kids occupied (Ben Blair is such a champ). The weather was fantastic, so mostly, everyone was outside running around, eating popsicles and celebrating the start of summer vacation. But when they were indoors, and looking for something to do, we kept busy with an arsenal of artsy-techy pasttimes — things like iPhone apps, digital cameras, and Oscar’s favorite: Photobooth.

I’m so grateful for all the new technologies that engage kids in creative ways. I think it’s wonderful to see Olive earning virtual money, then buying and selling items on Webkins. Ralph loves editing footage with iMovie. Maude creates with Wii Music or writes on her blog. Oscar is all about taking photos (like the ones pictured here). Betty plays with Jirbo Match on my phone. I could go on and on…

In addition to being great learning tools, I confess, I depend on these technologies to occupy and entertain the kids from time to time so I can get some work done or get dinner on the table. Should I feel guilty about it? I don’t. We do lots of fun activities at our house — I think of screen time as one of many worthy options.

What about you? Do you have any techy-yet-creative ways you engage your kids? Do you ever use technology as a babysitter? Do you have restrictions on screen time? Any favorite apps you’d recommend?


Dodge Caravan asked about my thoughts on technology — how it allows me to find some semblance of work/life balance, while raising a big family and working as well. I responded, “How much time do you have?” Then I told them I’d write up a series of 4 posts on the topic. This is post number two. Here’s post number one.

This Content Series is brought to you by Dodge Caravan, so technologically advanced your kids will be like ’011101110110100101101110. Click Here

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sharon May 24, 2010 at 5:53 am

we dont really watch TV in our family – we do lots of creating:) my kids love to color and build with Legos. my oldest has an ongoing bug collection…

here is a glimpse of them creating


2 Design Mom May 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

Such a lovely, peaceful shot, Sharon. We love Legos at our house too!


3 Bron @ Baby Space May 24, 2010 at 6:42 am

Yep, guilty as charged re: screen babysitter but mostly the kids still love DVDs… myself I am loving the iPhone apps. We don’t really watch TV except for the kids shows (ABC 2 – great station in Oz) and the news…

I don’t feel too guilty about it – I know we spend other quality time together. No judging here! And yes, Teletubbies is still being watched ;)


4 Design Mom May 24, 2010 at 8:06 am

My kids love movies too, Bron. We like to put them on our iPhones when we can — so I don’t have to mess with scratched DVDS. I swear, all our DVDS are scratched.


5 Jan (Family Bites) May 24, 2010 at 7:42 am

We limit TV time too, but do indulge in techy creativity. Here’s one thing we do – I’ve downloaded the free app to my iphone. One of my kids will check the app each day for the “word of the day”, share it will the family and then we’ll come up with ways to use the word. They get a kick out of using the phone, the younger one gets to practice reading and we ALL learn something new.


6 Design Mom May 24, 2010 at 8:07 am

That’s brilliant, Jan! I’m going to have to check out the dictionary app. So great.


7 Mary May 24, 2010 at 7:56 am

I limit TV-time too, although I admit that some nights I really do appreciate having Diego’s help getting dinner on the table. My 3-year-old can use our computer better than most adults at this point! I limit his computer-time too, but I agree that there is a huge variety of activities for them, and I think that in moderation it’s not a bad thing. He likes – lots of pre-reading activities, printable games, etc.


8 Design Mom May 24, 2010 at 8:08 am

I hadn’t heard of Sounds cool! Thanks for the recommendation, Mary.


9 Terri May 24, 2010 at 8:08 am

Yep… I use tech as a babysitter as well, at least for my 3-year-old. It is quite helpful for getting dinner on the table or throwing some laudry in the washer. I try to limit it, but also realize that sometimes tv is the only down-time she gets. So, a lot of times, I use tv as a replacement for her nap. She has recently discovered on-line coloring is is hooked. So, I’m using that to teach her some basic computer skills.


10 Design Mom May 24, 2010 at 8:10 am

That’s so true, Terri. I remember when Betty weaned from her naps, TV time was the only rest she would get during the day.


11 Bri May 24, 2010 at 10:12 am

I love this! My little girl (3 tomorrow!) loves playing ‘doodle buddy’ and ‘pumpkin face’ (a halloween jack-o-lantern app for which I don’t know the actual name) on the iphone! We don’t really watch T.V. at our house but definitely do the movie thing. Dad’s a video game designer/artist, so there will be a lot of that in her future too, I’m sure! I just can’t believe she knows how to unlock the iphone and find the app. she wants all by herself! (It’s only communicating with our wireless netowrk at home, so no worries about random phone calls!) P.S. no pajamas for me this weekend! Not with a 3rd birthday party to prepare for!


12 Kate Reymann May 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I used to feel guilty about this until I realized my kiddo was learning how to count and recognize letters from watching Sesame Street so I try not to stress about it. It is really the only way I can get the dishes unloaded/reloaded/breakfast made in the morning and then dinner prepped and ready in the evening. My son has never been interested in playing with pots on the floor for more than 2 minutes. If Elmo can entertain him – and teach him how to brush his teeth – for 30 minutes then so be it. He still doesn’t fully get that if he pushes the button on my iphone he’ll turn off whatever application is running so he doesn’t really do tech time right now but I am sure that will come sometime soon.

Finally, I totally agree with you all about downtime. Sometimes after he gets home from day care, he just collapses into his little chair to watch Sesame Street. I think it’s relaxing for him in the same way it is relaxing for me to watch The Bachelorette. (eee!! starting tonight!)

And Gabrielle, those pictures of Miss June’s homecoming are so sweet it made my teeth ache. :-)


13 Mika May 24, 2010 at 12:58 pm

My 4 year old loves all things visual.. so computer time for her is a favorite! Our favorite sites are (love dirt girl!), and two great canadian sites… and She has learned so much from her computer time.. she navigates the sites on her own, and I love the parental controls on our mac! She has her own username, and the computer automatically logs her off when time is up (you can set it up different for each day according to your schedule) and there is no arguing with the computer for more time! Computer time is my girls only quiet time during the day (and therefore mine!) so every minute is precious!


14 Rebecca Grace May 24, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I just stumbled onto your blog by happy accident! This topic has been on my mind lately. I have two sons, 6 1/2 and 9 years old, and I use their Nintendo DSi contraptions to keep my sanity intact when we’re waiting for food to come at a fancy restaurant, on a long car trip, or, God forbid, for those unfortunate occasions when I have to bring them to the mall with me and I need them to sit still while I try on clothes! I keep an eye on the clock and limit the “screen time” of DS, Playstation, computer time, or TV shows, but still feel like tech time is a guilty pleasure in our house. I’m excited to hear about so many cool mom-friendly educational apps for the iPhone, since I was planning to switch over from my Blackberry to the iPhone anyway. And how cool is it that Mika’s Mac computer automatically logs off when her daughter’s computer time is up! I LOVE that! No matter how many 5-minute warnings I give, there is always a lot of dramatic caterwauling when I say that time is up. Who can argue with a computer? :-)

So, on the subject of educational technology for kids — Have you or any of your readers ever tried e-reader devices for kids? I’ve been looking at the Barnes & Noble Nook, Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader. My kids were enthralled with a relative’s kindle when they saw it last summer, but I don’t like the wide-open internet access with no parental controls on both the nook and the kindle. The Sony Reader has no internet at all, but that seems to make it more of a pain when you want to download a book on the fly, in the car, in the dressing room at Niemann Marcus, or wherever… :-) If I could find a “child friendly” e-reader I’d buy two of them for my kids in a heartbeat, because I wouldn’t feel as guilty if they’re reading instead of playing Pokemon or Lego Batman games. Any suggestions greatly appreciated!


15 Ashlea Walter May 25, 2010 at 3:59 am

We don’t watch TV in our home, but we all enjoy some computer time. It’s amazing to me how intuitively-designed my iPhone is. It’s much easier for our one-year-old to “use” than my mother-in-law. It’s fun to see it in her hands and see her scrolling around with the simple push of a chubby finger. Endless entertainment for me and I’m sure she’s getting something out of it, right?! We like the simple iTot cards app with animal pictures and animal sounds. Fun!


16 Lauren May 25, 2010 at 5:42 am

We don’t have TV in our house. The major benefit is that our children are unaware of all the merchandise marketed at them — a trip to the supermarket is a breeze. They don’t recognise any brand names and only know some character names from friends’ dress-up outfits.

However, we have started screen-time on Sunday afternoons when we’ll sit down and watch an old show from the 60s on the computer. It’s a nice tradition to look forward to, and when they’re older we’ll watch classics such as The Sound of Music.

Each family must find its own balance with screen-time and tech-products. If I was married to your husband and had your kids, my strict stance on TV may be different.

But I love the way it’s made our family!


17 adn May 25, 2010 at 10:03 am

Love your blog! Where do you find the time?? I LOVE the iPhone. It’s amazing how my two year old intuitively picked it up and she figured out how to unlock it etc. all on her own, navigate around etc. Her grandparents were astounded!

Great iPhone apps: iWrite — my little one (2) actually writes OWL and other easy words as well as counting! and also WeetWoo — it’s a kid-friendly youtube with quick little videos of Clifford or Disney songs and storybooks.


18 Karen Chatters May 26, 2010 at 6:55 am

My daughter is only 18mo and she’s spent quite a bit of time playing with Photo Booth and the girl in the computer. It’s amazing. She sits and waves and shows the girl her toys and laughs and the girl always laughs back. So cute!


19 Amy May 26, 2010 at 11:54 am

I do put my girls on the computer from time to time. I love the learning games. But I also love games like Zoo Tycoon. Plus, I think learning how to type and use a mouse is important in the age they are growing up in.


20 Alison May 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I just stumbled across your site and when I saw your post about techy ways to entertain kids I had to share our great find. My mother-in-law bought a membership to a website called Basically, it’s children’s books that can be read online via internet chat. Now grammy calls us about once a week, we log into reado’s site, and she reads my boys stories. They see the story book on the computer while she reads it out loud, and she can turn the pages just like an actual book. It’s awesome, and totally guilt free!!! Quality time with their grammy, and educational! She reads to them for an hour or so, they are completely entertained, and I’m able to get all sorts of things done…win win!!


21 Leslie May 26, 2010 at 6:10 pm

I’m the “Grammy” Alison posted about and I LOVE! This is the greatest new website online because it helps me stay connected with my little darlings. The books are fantastic and I don’t have to leave home to buy them or check them out of the library. The thing that really makes it fun is that I can see them and they can see me as we read together even though we are miles apart. The other really cool thing about it is that it is not only entertaining, but educational at the same time. My 4 year old grandson is learning to read and this a terrific way to reinforce his new skills. So if you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, child who is away from someone you love, and you want to build lasting bonds of love and spend quality time together – this is a GREAT find!


22 Caroline June 30, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Last week, my husband watched my daughter via Skype while I used the bathroom. She loved it.


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