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Handheld learning: Tips for keeping electronics educational

Naomi de la Torre is freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom with two delightful boys, ages three and six. Naomi has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, is a self-proclaimed salsa diva, and can make a killer octopus ...

Educational electronics

The digital world is quietly inching its way into every aspect of our lives. From smartphones and iPads to e-readers and laptops, electronics are everywhere -- and they’re not all bad. The challenge is to prevent your children from wasting hours on mindless screen time and to focus instead on learning. Here are our best tips for handheld learning in your family.

Educational electronics

1Choose smart products.

Although most electronic learning products are advertised as interactive, not all will actually engage your child in active learning. The best products are fun and easy to use, and they require your child to be more than a passive recipient and button pusher. For young children, some excellent new options are available that will keep them busy with hands-on fun.

Jump into a world of discovery with the Nook Color, which boasts fabulous, interactive kids' picture books that make every story come alive. The Innotab is a brand-new tablet designed especially for children that will keep them engaged with interactive e-reading, painting, drawing, music, photos and games that you can control with the touch screen and tilt sensor. Sifteo Cubes use an innovative new technology to engage children and adults of all ages. Move, twirl, flip and shake your way to fun. Your child can learn to spell, practice fractions, do quadratic equations, solve moving puzzles and dive into a whole new dimension in electronic gaming in which the blocks interact not just with you, but with each other as well.

2Monitor electronic use.

As electronics become more sophisticated and even handheld games designed for children hit "the cloud," it is important to monitor electronic use. Keep a close eye on what your children are doing on their iPads, e-readers and gaming systems. Engage the parental controls and block inappropriate sites. Help your children choose programs and games that are safe, age-appropriate and mentally stimulating.

3Limit screen time.

Too much screen time can have many unhealthy side effects including obesity, sleep disorders, psychological problems, behavior issues and impaired academic performance. Determine an appropriate amount of screen time for your children and monitor their progress. Experts recommend no more than two hours total screen time per day for teens and one hour for younger children.

4Encourage active play.

Research shows that children learn best through play and self-discovery. Don't feel guilty for letting your children play games on the computer or gaming console -- but make sure to also encourage active play! Controller-free games such as those by Kinect Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii are another option that will keep your kids up and moving while engaging their brains. As with all gaming systems, help your children make good decisions in choosing appropriate activities that are both mentally engaging and lots of fun.

More about electronics for kids

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Electronics your students actually need
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