Internet generation

Raising children in a screen-free home is tough – but recently, I discovered the perfect compromise

The podcast is the ideal way to keep your child away from screens and yet engaged.

You know who is a parent’s best fair-weather friend? A smart device. Give a child one of those things and you’ll find that the old adage of a mother’s work never being done is untrue. As adults, we’re pretty much addicted to our devices – so imagine what happens to the curious, sharp and quick brains of children when suddenly handed an entire world of entertainment or information at the slightest swipe of a shiny tablet.

Giving your kid an internet-enabled device means you can keep them busy for hours. I decided to keep my home media-free because the advertisements both on television and the internet are not really appropriate, not to mention misleading. Unsupervised time on either medium is dangerous, and I don’t want them to become video game addicts at least until they are teenagers.

This is why we don’t have a television set. We don’t watch YouTube or Netflix (well, not until the kids are asleep and I open it up like some guilty pleasure.) I chose the Waldorf education system for my eight and nine-year olds for its keen no-electronic-media philosophy. My biggest challenge, as you can probably imagine, is keeping them engaged.

If this sounds tough, imagine going on a road trip with kids and having the no-device policy. Thankfully, as more and more parents recognise the damage visual media can inflict on children, some of us have also found podcasts.

Pexels/ via Pixabay [Licensed under CC BY CC0]
Pexels/ via Pixabay [Licensed under CC BY CC0]

No such thing as boredom

A little over two years ago, I was on the road a lot and thanks to a friend, discovered a fascinating curiosity podcast called No Such Thing As A Fish. A podcast created by researchers and producers of the BBC game show QI, the podcast permanently changed the way I consumed content.

As a single mother, I run a tight schedule. School runs are timed to perfection. Snacks, playtime, shower, a little cuddling, dinner, and finally, all of this culminating in bedtime at about 7:30 pm. Even when I wasn’t driving, the podcast allowed me to get around the house and finish work without the dreariness of boredom seeping in. I would fold the laundry, make a snack or clean up shelves all the while listening to voices discuss several interesting facts or break a concept down.

Six months ago, the children and I were on a road trip and I downloaded a few podcasts for the way. I picked three podcasts that seemed promising – a science-themed one called Brains On, a history-based one called The Past and The Curious and one called The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian. It was perfect, because podcasts engage a child’s imagination just like reading stories to them – children have to listen carefully to every word spoken and create the image in their heads. The road trip was the most peaceful one any one of us has ever had.

The creators of Brains On, an NPR podcast, for instance, firmly believe their ideal podcast audience is both children and curious adults. “Having the kids who write in with questions become our co-hosts is a great way to engage,” said Molly Bloom, one of the creators, in an interview.

Perhaps the only problem I foresaw was that most podcasts follow a single theme. If one child got bored and wanted to switch to, say, a science podcast, instead of the history one while I was driving, they’d have to go through the other apps on the phone, running the risk of getting distracted and abandoning the exercise altogether. Children are masters of distraction – by the time they chose a podcast or an episode, I knew they’d decide they wanted to do something else altogether.

Representative image. Photo credit: Amanda Golden/Flickr [Licensed under CC BY 2.0]
Representative image. Photo credit: Amanda Golden/Flickr [Licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Child-friendly virtual space

Leela Kids, an app for children between the ages of three and 15, was launched by California-based Leela Labs on iOS in late July and on Android in the second week of August. It’s a carefully and thoughtfully curated app for children’s podcasts. Children need not exit it to look for another podcast or theme they like, so they don’t run the risk of getting lost on the internet and getting distracted by something shinier.

Sandeep Jain, the founder of Leela Labs, the company that makes Leela Kids, said: “I quit my fairly well-paid job to build Leela Labs as I found podcasting technology to be completely broken and saw a tremendous business opportunity. Radio advertising is worth around $20 billion while podcast advertising is only about $200 million. The idea for the Leela Kids Podcast App came about when I had to spend hours to find an episode on Dinosaurs that my 4-year-old son could listen to. In the App, we curate individual episodes based on kids’ ages and topics of interest and the results are ranked based on individual episodes and how far along the users have listened to a given episode.”

Jain observed what kind of topics his kid and kids of other friends liked – dinosaurs, oceans, science, history curiosity. “Of course, everyone loves stories,” he said.

The hunger for content that is exciting, engaging and yet not addictive is one that, for now, only books provide in many households. Kids Listen, an organisation in the US working towards engaging kids in learning while making them listen, suggests that children are more “actively engaged” after listening to a podcast than watching a TV show. TV is deluged with advertisements that are not entirely inappropriate for kids, not to mention highly misleading. There is the occasional advertisement on podcasts too, but the content is mostly seamless.

Podcasts are perfect for days that the kids are rained in, or sick, or when they’re travelling. The only downside? You’re spending the next hour on Google trying to answer all the questions that popped up in their heads while listening to the episode.

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It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

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Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

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About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.