Does your baby play with your mobile? Has your toddler figured out the passcode to your smart phone? The latest figures show that technology is increasingly part of young children’s lives with the majority of children two years and younger regularly playing with technology. While some adults may still be unsure whether young children should be using technology at all this trend indicates it is our responsibility to ensure that children use these devices in ways that help them reach their potential. Read my opinion piece on the topic published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
Modern technology needs to be more than child’s play. By Dr Joanne Orlando
Have you heard about the latest trend in toilet training young children? Letting them use the iPad while they’re on the potty.
That is, as long as the little one delivers the goods.
With the advent of tablets, smartphones and laptops, children are using new technology earlier than ever before. It’s a perfect match for them – they don’t need to sit still at a table or desk, they don’t need to negotiate a mouse – and the colours and movement on offer, at a mere touch, are irresistible.
But it’s still not known how useful these gizmos really are in helping teach basic tasks, from toilet training to reading or social skills. And there is also the crucial question of how much of the time children spend using this technology is spent constructively.
Research shows that toddlers, preschoolers and even babies are embracing mobile devices. The latest figures from the US show that 60 per cent of children aged six months to two years (as well as one in 10 babies under six months) play with mobile devices.
A study across Australia, New Zealand, the US and Britain found more two to five-year-olds are able to play games on a computer than tie their shoelaces or ride a bike. A new Android-powered tablet aimed at four-year-olds and under is in the final stages of production.
It is designed to promote interactive learning with various apps, including games, story books and music videos. But a hot debate continues about whether small children should be using this technology.
I was in a cafe the other day when I saw two children (aged one and four) busily tapping away on their iPads while mum had her coffee. The tableau drew a lot of attention from onlookers. Would they have stood out so much if carrying drawing paper or picture books? Is there anything wrong with a child learning to draw using an app?
There is a lot of hope for how technology can help children learn at school. The federal government has spent millions in the past two years alone on technology in schools, mainly laptops. Should we wait until a child is five or six or older to be introduced to technology? It’s an important question to ask.
Children are very capable learners. They learn to talk, walk, read, sing, tap dance, play soccer, all before their third or fourth birthday. Their capacity is equally outstanding when it comes to mobile technologies. They often know their way around their parent’s phone better than the parent. I have a friend whose preschooler keeps figuring out the passcode lock to their smartphone.
So the potential of mobile technologies is evident. There are hundreds of Apple and Android apps designed to develop young children’s literacy and numeracy.
Children can match numbers, play with tangrams, create artworks, play games based on their favourite story book and engage with, and even develop their own, new stories with the help of a parent. These apps offer immediate interactive responses, which is really exciting for both education and play.
Many worry these devices will take over from learning the basics, but I would argue that there are lots of ways to learn the alphabet. In fact, the basics are best learnt in different ways.
For example, learning the alphabet could involve a combination of writing, board games, exploring different fonts on a laptop, discussing street signs and posters, and reading an interactive story on a tablet – the best of both the old methods and the modern world.
Many people I speak to say they prefer to educate their children the old-fashioned way, but the truth is technology provides learning opportunities that traditional methods simply don’t.
Moreover, technology is a significant feature of our contemporary life. Feeling competent and confident with it is a ”new basic” that children now also need to learn.
Some parents are even tapping into young children’s enthusiasm for mobile technologies as a way of managing behaviour. Marketing research shows that iPhones and iPads are quickly becoming the most popular pacifiers on the market. However, giving a child your mobile every time you want them to be quiet can be as detrimental to their development as giving them a lolly each time they throw a tantrum.
Consistently demanding children disengage with the world around them and expecting them to be quiet all the time limits their opportunities to learn how to engage confidently with society. It teaches them that they are not important. They may be having fun using a device, but the message is subliminal.
We should develop the skills of children to use mobile technologies as valuable learning tools. They are fast becoming a way of life for young people, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that children use them in a way that helps them reach their potential.