The lost art of using reference books

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snakes“Can you look it up?”

I hear that a lot, from my 7-year-old son, especially when it comes to questions about snakes.

And by “look it up,” he doesn’t mean open a book: He means talk to my phone (in the form of a Google search) or type a query into Google (and find something online, typically at Wikipedia). (more…)


Deciding when your kid should have an email address


MailyThe Motherlode blog at the New York Times has a really thoughtful, and thought-provoking article, about the right age to get an email address for your child. KJ Dell’Antonia notes that “the possible problem lies not in the e-mail account itself, but in all you can do once you have that account.”

What can you do? Well, sign up for lots of things with your own email (and then confirm the sign-ups). Your kid could be on Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever, and you might not know it. Dell’Antonia solves that issue by funnelling emails through her own account (“They get an e-mail, I get an e-mail, and because I set up the accounts, only I know the passwords”).

There’s a really interesting discussion following the article. One comment zeroes in on a concern of mine:

I set up an email account for my 11-yr old son. I too know the password and can see the emails, which have been harmless. The problem has been the one that is caused by most electronics: he wants to “check it” all the time. I limit the checking to once or twice per day, but that does not stop the asking. Books, toys, outdoors all lose their luster when the electronic elephant is in the room.

That’s just it: My daughter is in fourth grade, and I don’t want to deal with lots of requests to check email. I suppose checking email once a day would be OK, and if that’s the rule, then that’s the rule.

Check out the article and discussion at When Should a Child Get an E-Mail Account?.

Miscellany, Tech

Is the iPad the new “board” for Monopoly and other board games?

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Is Monopoly doomed? Sometimes it seems like it, with our attention shifting to the Wii, smartphone games, and all of the entertainment available on the iPad and tablet computers. But maybe, just maybe, tablet computers will become the board for a whole new generation of board games (as well as new versions of all-time faves). That’s what seems to be happening, as I wrote in a recent column.

The iPad isn’t out to destroy traditional board games, but it is appropriating them—and reinventing what a board game can be. A generation from now, that standard feature of many homes — shelves stacked with board games in tattered cardboard boxes — may be a relic of the past. All of your faves will still be available, just in a super-charged form, and on the same device, a tablet computer.

I see this happening in my own home. I love the traditional Scrabble set, but why use it when you can have the iPad on the table and just put it away for a bit if you want to take a break from the game. Tablet games, after all, have a number of advantages: They keep score for you, there’s no cleanup, and you don’t have to worry about losing tiles or game pieces.


The column I didn’t write: “What Not to Buy Your Kids for the Holidays”

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Sometimes I have an idea for a column, and then I never get around to writing it. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost interest in the topic, or it seems dated — too many others have written about it — or I’ve realized there’s not enough there to make a column.

Here’s one I planned to write and chose not to: “What Not to Buy Your Kids for the Holidays.”

I thought about timing this for Black Friday. Then I worried it would be too curmudgeonly. And it probably would have been.

The general gist of it: Cross off gadgets from your kids’ holiday lists. (I’m talking about your kids who are 10 years old or under.) Don’t buy your 8-year-old an iPod touch or a Kindle Fire or a DS for the holidays. Kids are immersed in technology, and they’re better off if you delay those devices, especially the ones doubling as advanced communications tools (with email, social networking, phone capabilities, and the like).

I know it’s hard to resist: My daughter wants this stuff.

OK, there it is. I didn’t write it — as a column. But I thought it.