Thursday, July 25, 2013

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
Some time ago,  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?

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