Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Toddlers and Touchscreens

As some of you know, I've been coveting a Kindle Fire for awhile now. And an iPad, too. Doesn't it seem that once you're plugged in to one "smart" device, you want them all? I love my iPhone. I love the fact that I can download an e-reader app and read whole books, turning "pages" with the swipe of a finger. And now, no longer content with "just an app," I want the actual Kindle device. I want all the accessories. When I first started college, I had a small cellular phone that flipped open and had actual buttons for dialing. I didn't have text messaging on my plan. The phone didn't have a "data package" that enabled me to surf the web or check my email, much less read books with an e-reader app! The tech world is moving very fast! It's easy to get caught up it all, quickly learning to take each new innovation for granted.

"Count the Animals," by Abbracadabra
But the other day, I heard something that really gave me pause. It was a story, aired on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, about touchscreen devices and very young children. Increasingly, parents are placing iPhones, iPads, and other touchscreen software with interactive apps into the hands of their babies and toddlers. Children now "read" storybooks via apps, play with toys via apps, and watch shows on hand-held devices.

Listen to the podcast HERE.

I'm not interested in coming down hard on one side or the other on this topic right now, because I'm more interested in the discussion. There's some interesting debate going on and the questions, I think, are valid ones. Are traditional books on their way out? Are children learning at an accelerated or decelerated rate with this new technology? Is this technology acting merely as a pacifier of sorts? What will be the long term affects of a generation raised on touchscreens and apps?

Even if the technology is beneficial for children in many ways, what other concerns does it raise for parents? As a tech enthusiast myself, I'm interested in shiny, new devices and the constantly evolving ways we're interacting with the world. But part of me is a traditionalist. I love e-readers, but would be heartbroken if these devices replaced actual books. I want my child to feel real pages between his fingers and interact with the world in tactile ways that do not involve screens and digital displays.

Are you a parent? Does your child use an interactive device for learning or play? What are your thoughts?


  1. As a parent, my three-year-old can navigate my iPhone and Kindle Fire as well as I can, has is own section on each for learning apps, and has mastered them all. However, he also owns about 200 books we read regularly, because I feel reading is fundamental. Additionally, I don't read with him on the Kindle or iPhone because I want him to experience that warm and fuzzy feeling we get when we walk through a book store and see one of our childhood favorites on the shelves; that inner-smile it brings. As for using apps for reading and teaching, I will say this, my son can read 3-5 letter words with great ease because of these Kindle and iPhone applications, as well as longer words he is familiar with like 'finding' and 'story.' He knew all of his shapes, colors, and letters and their sounds before his third birthday, can identify the difference between an oval and circle, or a hexagon versus octagon, can count to 20, and can list off and identify fifteen different kinds of sharks by picture or words alone, meaning he can read their names or at least associated the letters with the corresponding shark. Conversely, he has a speech delay. He is extremely book smart to the point our pediatrician was blown away at his three-year check-up with his knowledge, but he just doesn't talk well. Is my use of technology to assist in teaching basic education what caused this? Who knows. I figure, he will develop his speech by the time he reaches kindergarten, and if he doesn't, then kindergarten won't be a classroom that teaches him the foundations he already knows, it will be a tool to help him develop social skills and better learn to communicate. I'm okay with this. Classroom teaching is meant to create well-rounded students, and I feel my son will do just fine, if not excel. If I had to do it over, would I let him play on my Kindle and iPhone as much as I do? Absolutely. And those are my thoughts. ;D

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  3. Thanks for weighing in! Like I said, I see points on both sides of the debate. And I don't think one should necessarily fall on one side or the other exclusively, because that's just too binary. We can incorporate technology and keep our traditional modes. We can have our cake and eat it too! I also know parents whose children have speech delays, and am pretty sure it's a pretty common thing, especially with little boys, regardless of the presence of this newer technology. Your little boy sounds like a smart little cookie!!



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