Friday, August 30, 2013

Things We Like (Wired Edition)

Being a List of Techno-Stuff That Makes Our Life Better Right Now

I. CurrClick

Online classes, free clubs -- my kids participate in Lego and American Girl clubs, as well as a MathArt class -- homeschooling resources, freebies.

II. Kindle Fire

We were going to take a deep breath, shut our eyes tight, say a prayer, and buy a family iPad. Then we saw that the Second-Generation Kindle Fire was $159 on Amazon, and now we have two of those, one for each of the two youngest children, ages 9 and 11.

Why the Kindle Fire? 

*Books. I already had a large library of free Kindle books, which we were reading on my laptop. Yesterday all the Mary Poppins books were on sale for 99 cents each. Can I resist these things? No, I cannot. Plus, I had all these e-books from Yesterday's Classics  and Heritage History saved in the Calibre app on my laptop, and now they're all loaded onto the kids' Kindles, to use for school. New books become available all the time.

And I don't have that much more shelf space in my house.

*Audiobooks. Our Audible library also becomes instantly available to household Kindle-users. Oh, how we love audiobooks. We listen to them regularly together, but it's nice for people to be able to listen on their own as well.

*Parental Controls. Like any electronic device that runs apps, a Kindle Fire can seem less like a tool than a toy. The parental-control feature, though, really helps mitigate against that. I kept my children's Kindles hidden for several weeks so that I could play with th-- I mean, so that I could work with them, to configure settings in such a way that only the things I want accessed are available. The web browser is blocked. Apps are blocked. The Newsstand feature is blocked (no browsing Us when you're supposed to be reading your history). Video is blocked. In fact, everything is blocked except books, audiobooks, and "documents," which covers all the books I've added from non-Amazon sources.

So when people open their Kindles, what they see are books they're supposed to be reading, either for school or for fun. Apps are available to them only through the FreeTime feature, which I sign them into only after schoolwork is finished. In FreeTime, furthermore, I can set time limits for activities:  no videos, an hour for apps, but unlimited reading. My only complaint is that I can't load the books in the "Documents" library into FreeTime, and FreeTime doesn't include audiobooks;  if I could add those things, the kids would never know that there was anything but FreeTime.

Our Kindle rules: 

1. All apps are blocked in the "regular" format, ie what you see when you turn the Kindle on. Web is blocked. Everything is blocked but books, audiobooks, and "docs."

2. Apps are enabled for a limited amount of time in the Kindle FreeTime mode. I have to enter them into FreeTime, via password, and exit them from it. I control their time allotments. Video is totally blocked, unless I have specifically unblocked it for a specific and agreed-upon video.

3. App selection is very limited. I might add a game at my discretion, but right now virtually all of the apps on their Kindles are educational. We do have things like Boggle, Monopoly, Mancala, etc, but no really gamy-games, if you know what I mean. I have made begging me for apps verboten. I know what they like, and as a good semester progresses, I *might* add something more fun, like Minecraft.

4. If I want to use an app during school time (we have a journal app that my daughter likes to use for narrations sometimes), then I will provisionally unblock that app, and not deduct that time from playtime allotment -- BUT the child has to be right by me, so that I can see that no wandering-off occurs. When that app use is finished, then I re-block them all. (I wish I could pick and choose and block particular apps, but alas . . .). The same would go for math apps and so forth. They *can* play those during their FreeTime allotment (though they haven't been quite that bored yet . . .). Anyway, things I wanted them to use for school purposes I would unblock and monitor.

5. School reading must be done before any playing. Always. Well, I take that back. They do sometimes get up in the morning and play a little before we start school, but then they have less playtime afterward. And so far I've had no trouble getting them to stop and switch gears for school. 

These convenient devices are really a lot of work, though I like them so far, with some minor caveats. While I have one Kindle-using child who really does devour books on his, my reluctant reader doesn't always choose to do that. Still, the books are available, just as they are all over our house, and that counts for something. That child also listens to audiobooks quite a lot, especially once her app playtime is up -- again, that's unlimited, we have a large Audible library, and I feel that that's time well spent. Meanwhile, I'm concentrating on feeding her as much good and challenging reading by way of her schoolwork as possible. 

I also have instituted mandatory Kindle-Off time in the afternoons. They use them for school, and I give them some time to play right after lunch, but from 2-4, generally, all devices are OFF, and people must find something else to do: play, read a "real" book, do art, whatever. Amazingly, they really haven't resisted this rule, and I think that even that relatively small limit helps them to use their devices more wisely during their on-time. 

III. Some Kindle Apps

1. KnowledgeTube. My 11-year-old's favorite video source. He gets to watch it only in limited slices, but suddenly he is full of information about atmospheric events on Jupiter. 

2. SaintCast. My 9-year-old and I are listening to the Thomas Becket podcast even as I write. She's been playing the following two (nice quiet) apps while we listen.

3. Kids Doodle.  My arty girl makes funny little movies -- alas that we can't save them. 

4. Famous Paintings Jigsaw.   Scrambles a famous painting, and you have to sort it out. 

IV. (Recent) Favorite Kindle Books and Audiobooks 

Mary Poppins Comes Back 
The Boxcar Children
The Hound of the Baskervilles
You Wait Till I'm Older Than You

Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man
Strega Nona

These links are not sponsored, by the way. I benefit by your clicking them only in the sense that sharing things we like is a satisfaction in itself. Our usual recommendations are so Luddite in nature that I thought I'd offer all this as a corrective to your view of our life here. It's not unplugged, that's for sure.


Pentimento said...

I'm a big technophobe. We don't have wifi; I don't have a smart phone. The only computer in the house is my 2007 MacBook, which is attached to a cable modem, and has some loose keys that Jude has pulled off. But I have inherited my mother's iPad, which my father got for her in the vain hope that it would help her communicate, when she was losing her ability to speak, with speech-assistive software (it didn't really help because she couldn't manage the touch-screen either). So far the iPad is just a game-console, and sometimes I take it with me if I have to go somewhere for a while so I can check my email. If someone earns a game through good behavior, I download it from iTunes on the MacBook and then plug the iPad into the USB port and sync them.

I just got a Nook, though. It's still in its box. I'd been wanting one for a few months, and the price was right -- it's actually cheaper than Kindle, has gotten great reviews, and uses Firefox instead of whatever proprietary web-browser thingy Kindle uses. I'm still terrified of it, but I felt like now was the moment. I've gone on a few road trips this summer and I always get lost; I don't want anything ambitious like a smart-phone that can pull up a map, or a GPS; I just sort of want to be able to pull into an exit and get wifi on my little Nook if I need to check directions. And check email. But I still worry that all this technology is going to ruin my life.

Sally Thomas said...

The Kindles are frankly out of character for us. But I had some game and educational apps on my computer, which meant that people were pestering me all the time to use my computer, and I'd say yes and set a timer, which nobody ever heard go off, including me, and two hours later I'd wonder why I hadn't gotten any work done . . . So the ship of the ruination of our lives by technology had already long since sailed.

And so, the Kindles. So far my voracious reader is devouring all the free and $.99 books I can load onto his, while my reluctant reader . . . plays Boggle a lot. But not too much, because I set the time limits!

I don't have a smart phone, either, though I now kind of want one. But that's one little spasm of desire I think I can resist.

Pentimento said...

I was weighing a smartphone this summer, but getting a Nook was my compromise. I know it would be like crack for me. I don't want to be the woman sitting on a bench at the playground texting. That gives me the creeps.

Sally Thomas said...

Yeah, no texting for me, though my older kids communicate that way (largely with each other when they're not in the same town). I do really love the touch-screeny stuff, though. I don't know why that's so satisfying -- it's weird that it is.

And I have had the conversation with my younger kids about what a drag it is to sit around a table with a bunch of people all absorbed in their own private electronic world. We Do Not Take Electronic Devices to Social Functions. That's what I think is creepy -- people in a restaurant sitting together but all looking down at their phones. I thought just answering a cell phone while you were having dinner with someone was rude. . . back in the day it didn't occur to me to imagine what the second generation of the cell phone universe would look like (probably because in the beginning I didn't envision their ever being anything but telephones that you took around with you).

Pentimento said...

I've been told that when twenty-somethings go to house parties now, it's very quiet, because everyone is looking at his phone. It sounds like a punchline.

Sally Thomas said...

No kidding.

lissla lissar said...

We have wifi and Geoff and I both have smartphones, but we don't have an iPad. My phone's a pretty recent purchase, and I've noticed that I love and hate how tempting it is- the whole internet! Waiting for me! When I should be paying attention! I get grumpy about the general trend towards lack of attention in the moment, and now I feel some guilt about being One of Those People on my phone at the park. But, you know, if I had a book along I would be equally tempted to pull it out and go hide inside of it instead of inside Facebook...