Feb 062012

ipad tablet & child development

Our iPad toddler at 18 months

Done wrong, an iPad can be cerebral junk food to your child. Done right, it’s a magical looking glass into a world of discovery. Our family had to experiment on our own offspring. We didn’t have a choice. There are no scientific studies on whether iPad usage accelerates or impedes child development. Until the science is done, our family (and perhaps yours) are the cutting edge of research. My 2 1/2 year old has used an iPad for nearly two years. We monitored what worked and what didn’t; making adjustments on the way. We’ve learned a lot. It boils down to five principles that can make all the difference.
The 5 Rules

1. Tablets are for two

When a toddler uses an iPad you must be there observing and interacting the entire time. This is hard. Tablets are the best electronic babysitters ever invented. A child might sit there lost in the “10-inch gaze” for days. This tempts weary caregivers to take a much needed break. Don’t. Tablet time = together time.

The results of our real-world experience are clear: Tablet time alone yields poor results, even with the best educational apps. However, with an engaged parent alongside, even a non-educational game can become a wonderful learning experience. The other day we were playing Angry Birds together and saw an intro scene of the pigs putting on an old-style Japanese outdoor play. This triggered a discussion about kabuki theater, what emotions the masks represent and how an alternate tonal scale can make different sounding music. That can’t happen if you’re not there. Continue reading »

Feb 052012

ipad tablet & child development

My toddler with iPad at 18 months

Is that iPad making your kid smarter or dumber? For the moment, no one really knows. Impassioned opinions are readily available on both sides but rigorous scientific studies have yet to be published. Are tablets+kids our generation’s developmental thalidomide or merely another fluoride, beneficial in measured doses but harmful when free-based? Today’s kids are guinea pigs in a massive uncontrolled experiment to find out and I worry about my toddler. I love technology. I believe in the ability of tech to empower individuals, connect communities and unite our species. I believe this deeply. Yet I would turn into a born again Luddite in a heartbeat if I thought technology was harming my child. Two things I care deeply about appear to be in mortal conflict and I need an actionable answer NOW.

There is a study, “Young Children, Apps & iPad” (pdf), funded by the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn initiative, which looked at kids 2 to 8 years old and their engagement with iPads. Read into the study though, and you’ll discover it was based on briefly interviewing and observing 60 kids over a very short period of time. It contains such insightful findings as, “Children’s initial reaction to touch screen devices is characterized by fascination and immediate engagement”. Yes, the same could be said of Twinkies, but it doesn’t mean Twinkies are beneficial. In short, there is little in the study that will be surprising, or even informative, to anyone that’s spent much time with kids and tablets. This study can shed a little light on how kids engage with tablets but tells us nothing about whether their development is being stunted or accelerated. Continue reading »