How I Talk with Children about Tech

I recently talked with a school teacher who uses Zerus & Ona in her classroom about how she could add some of the newest resources this year.

She also asked how I first talk with children about technology when running my workshops with families and schools.

Here's what I do.

zerus and ona

As they arrive, I ask children to pick one card from the Binary Carnival game deck. I tell them that these are bits and that they can choose a 0 or a 1.

As they sit in a circle, I take out my phone, computer, and tablet and ask them what these are. "A phone! A computer! A tablet!" they all cheer together. "Do you know what's inside?" I continue.

Most of them go silent and look at me with big eyes. "Cables!" may one of them cry.

"Yes, there are cables and there are also bits!" I exclaim. "Like the ones in your hands! They're zeros and ones, very, very tiny, and they help humans with all the wonderful things technology can do for us."

zerus and ona

After that, I invite them into an imaginary world inside the computer while we read together Welcome to our World. Children then meet Zerus, Ona, and all their friends in the Binary World!

I remember before running my first workshop, I was feeling nervous. "Would children get into that world inside the computer that I created for them?"

They got into it so quickly! And we spent the afternoon living together in that imaginary place among CPUs, memories, and data buses.

zerus and ona workshop

Alison Gopnik talked about this topic during her (unedited) interview with Krista Tippett:

"One of those great capacities that you see in children is this capacity for imagination, to think about worlds that are different from the world that we're currently in. Children spend a lot of their time in these pretend worlds; they're off in these imaginary places more during the day than in real life. [...] They seem to think that being in those unreal, fantastic worlds is important as well as it's fun."

As a mom, I find this fascinating to watch.

My 4yo switches from being Tarzan living in the jungle to Spiderman throwing spiderwebs around the city to becoming Optimus Prime in a matter of minutes.

He often asks his dad and me to play along, and sometimes —I'm not gonna lie— I struggle with it. Because I can easily go inside a computer and play as Ona, but getting into the bones of Optimus Prime... that's another story!

I believe spending time in those unreal, fantastic worlds to be as important for children as for grown-ups (which reminds me to try harder this week with Optimus Prime).

If this inspired you to do some Zerus & Ona at home or in the classroom, these are the resources I mentioned in this email:

Here's to many days full of play and imaginary places!

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