In the ongoing discussion about how much kids should be on their screens, we sometimes overlook an important aspect of that question: What are they doing on their screens?
All screen time is not equal. I think the time that we parents worry about the most is the passive time where our kids are simply consuming content. They are “vegging” on their devices (and likely haven’t blinked for the better part of an hour.)
So how can we encourage our kids to move from passive consumer to active creator? Certainly, we can require them to get off their screens entirely and create something offline. This is not up for debate. They need lots of time like that.
But for that time they do want to be on their screens, can we steer them away from watching mindless YouTube videos and more towards constructing and expressing themselves with the technology?
Here are nine ideas for cultivating an online creator.
If your child hasn’t discovered Minecraft yet, or if they have and you’ve only heard about bad stuff that happens on something called “servers,” relax a little.
Minecraft is an online building environment where you create whatever you want using blocks made out of different materials. You can landscape the earth, build buildings and structures, and interact with living creatures (some of them may want to kill you, by the way.)
Though you can play online through servers, which includes a chat feature, Minecraft can be played as a stand-alone offline game with endless building possibilities.
Maybe you want your child to prepare for a workforce that will pay a premium salary to good programmers in almost every discipline. Or maybe you’ve simply become convinced that coding is a valuable skill to learn and one that can be surprisingly fun. In any case, encourage your kids to at least try coding.
The best place to start is code.org. With backing from the biggest names in the computer science industry, code.org makes coding easy to learn with familiar characters. Designed to be used in school with the “Hour of Code” movement, millions of students have already learned their first coding principles and designed their first game or program. Some have gone on to learn entire programming languages through the free courses.
If your tween or teen has a passion about a particular topic, work with them to set up a blog where they can produce a regular article about that subject. Every week or so, they could write a short article or create a step-by-step photo series on how to do something.
Do they enjoy creating original Lego designs? Are they artistic? A voracious reader? Have them share their passion with an authentic audience on a regular basis.
There are few benefits to this activity (and others on this list.) They begin to understand how to write or create for an audience. They also will likely learn (with your help) how to deal with trolls: those who are only happy when they are putting others down online. As much as we want to shelter them from this entirely, wouldn’t it be better that they experience it while we are still in the picture and can guide them through it?
Like a blog, creating a website allows your child to explore and share their interests with an audience. A website allows for a wider range of content and organization. Maybe they just want to take pictures and create a photo gallery. Perhaps they would like to try their hand at an online magazine of sorts.
Starting a website is easier than it’s ever been. No coding experience necessary. They can start at Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, or any number of other sites. Stay away from Tumblr, as they will likely find themselves interacting with some very inappropriate content.
Remember when we were growing up and we all had that totally unrealistic dream of becoming a professional star in our favorite sport? Yeah. It seems that today, every kid wants to be a YouTube star.
Even with chances low that they’ll reach their first million doing YouTube, it is still a valuable experience to learn how to create quality videos, edit and upload them, and interact with people online in an appropriate and productive manner.
Again, start with a passion or interest, and have them think through some content. Want to talk about movies or sports or games or fashion? What kinds of “episodes” could you have? What would the format be? (Don’t take all the fun out of it by making it some sort of assignment, but encourage them to be a producer that puts out good quality stuff.)
Be sure to subscribe to their channel and help them monitor the comments they get.
Buh-bye, lemonade stand. The interwebs have made it possible for anyone to start their own business.
If you have a budding entrepreneur (my youngest is always asking for work he can do to make an extra buck), help them think through the steps to create and sell products and services online.
I’m no lawyer, so you’ll need to be really careful and do your research on any of this. Pay attention to age limits, terms of service, legal issues regarding selling, and the like when setting stuff up.
But it could be something as simple as cleaning up old toys and posting them on Craiglist or an app like LetGo (under your account, of course.)
And don’t forget services. Forget putting up flyers about lawn-mowing or dog-walking or babysitting services. Post your skills on local Facebook pages or create your own website.
While your young author can (and maybe should) start their own blog, they can also write and share their prose on apps and sites like Storybird (5-7), or Scholastic Kids Press Corps (8-9). For teen writers, Figment, TeenInk, or WattPad will give them a platform for honing their skills. Some of these are guided writing tools and others are more social media platforms for young writers allowing them to share writing and get feedback.
Another place to share your writing is to create your own ebook on Amazon. Yep, no publishing house or literary agent needed. Kindle Direct Publishing is a little more advanced, but allows users to upload their ebooks into the Amazon marketplace, give it a price, and offer it for sale.
YouTube is great for watching how-to videos, but kids can take it a step further and actually take a class online.
I know, this sounds too much like school. Why would my child willingly take an online class? Well, because they are choosing what they want to learn. Not something they often get to do, huh?
Course vary wildly in length, cost, and level. Avoid ones that are clearly college courses or adult (unless you’ve got an advanced high school student in the house.) There are great courses on everything from video game design to drawing to photography to cooking and more at sites like Jam and Udemy.
Stop motion, a video created from multiple still images shown very quickly, has been around for decades. Think back to the “claymation” Christmas specials we used to watch as kids.
It is now easier than ever for kids to create their own stop motion videos using Lego figures, stuffed animals, or any other toy or object at hand. For the most part, the process is the same as it’s always been. Mount a phone or tablet, stage a scene using objects, take a picture, move everything slightly, take another picture, and rinse and repeat.
All the photos are then imported into a video editor, like iMovie, and put together to run for less than a second each (usually). The result is a jerky sort of video with everything seeming to move. There are some great apps for iOS and Android that will simplify this process, too.
This type of creation not only joins the physical and digital world, it gives them an opportunity to do some storyboarding, a scene-by-scene process that all filmmakers use to plan out their story.
What am I missing? What online activities do your kids love that combines both worlds and gets them creating? Tell us about them in the comments below!