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Tempted to buy your tot a tablet?

Washington Post (via SMH) | Dec. 19, 2012
What's more appealing to a tot than blinking lights, fun sounds and touch screens that allow them to move things with the swipe of a tiny, sticky finger?

Sanders says that apps initially helped her older daughter master counting, learn letters and identify shapes. Now that she's older, she is interested in apps that show the workings of the digestive and nervous systems.

The idea that children don't learn from screens until 30 months of age does not square with Sanders' experience.

"When there's a child who can take technology and make it her own in 10, 15 minutes, I think there's something to be said for that kid. I wouldn't want to hinder her abilities," Sanders says. "This is the world we live in. Why stop children from learning about technology?"

Like many parents, Mistrett is more conflicted. She typically eschews battery-operated toys in favour of pretend and exploratory play and time on the playground.

"But the 1-year-old can already swipe to unlock my iPhone, so that's where I contradict myself," she says.

She also sees some benefits to touch-screen technology. All of the swiping can help develop fine-motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination, and such apps as "LetterSchool" can help with handwriting skills. The devices also motivate kids to stay focussed: "If you hand them the screen, they could go for hours," Mistrett says.

To minimise the temptation for children to do nothing but swipe, Mistrett and her husband have drawn limits for their children. She set up her iPad so that her 3-year-old son can access only his own apps. Mistrett allows him to play on the tablet a couple of times a day for 10-to-15- minute stretches.

Rich and other experts say that if parents are going to allow their children to use an iPad, they should sit and play along with them. That way, the parent is the teacher, rather than the technology.

"The fact that mum hugs the child when she gets something right, the tone in mum's voice - none of that can be conveyed by the iPad," Rich says.

This suggestion goes against what many parents use the iPad for: a "shut-up toy" - an industry term, according to Common Sense Media - because parents give them to their children in situations where they need them to be quiet, such as in restaurants, waiting rooms and aeroplanes.

Those are the types of situations when mother Monica Sakala allows her 3-year-old daughter to play with an iPhone, though not without some guilt.

"I like to think we could go out to dinner and she could colour or read a book," Sakala says. "We didn't have this stuff when I was a kid. We had to entertain ourselves. Sometimes I worry it seems lazy to whip [the iPhone] out."

 

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