Does technology hinder or help toddlers' learning?

 
Young child playing with a tablet Screen time could help children as young as two to learn words and be curious

Related Stories

Children under five years old have an uncanny knack of knowing how to master new technology.

From smart phones to tablet computers and game consoles, it is not unusual to see toddlers intuitively swiping screens and confidently pressing buttons.

Even if parents enjoy the momentary peace that comes with handing a small child a gadget to play with, parents secretly worry that this screen time is damaging their brains.

But it appears that screens can be beneficial to learning - and the more interactive the experience the better.

Research from the University of Wisconsin, presented at a meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development this week, found that children aged between two and three were more likely to respond to video screens that prompted children to touch them than to a video screen that demanded no interaction.

The more interactive the screen, the more real it was, and the more familiar it felt from a two-year-old's perspective, the study suggested.

Start Quote

Kids who are interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster”

End Quote Heather Kirkorian University of Wisconsin

Heather Kirkorian, assistant professor in human development and family studies, carried out the research and says touch screens could hold educational potential for toddlers.

When she did another test on word learning, the results were repeated.

"Kids who are interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster.

"But we're not turning them into geniuses, just helping them get a little more information."

Helpful tools

So breathe more easily parents, your toddler is just doing what comes naturally and interacting with the world.

In any case, technology, in the form of phones and tablets, is here to stay. Many primary schools and some pre-schools have introduced iPads into the classroom to facilitate learning. Technology, understanding how things work, and ICT are part of the curriculum.

"I'm not one of those people who think we shouldn't expose children to mobiles, tablets etc," says Helen Moylett, president of Early Education, a charity that aims to improve teaching practice and quality for the under-fives.

"They can be really helpful and interesting tools if used in the right place to help us learn - and not all the time, or instead of other things."

However, her main concern is that parents are not always good role models.

Toddler playing "I'll just do this headstand, then I'll go and play on mummy's phone"

"I see parents texting while they walk. Often they are so plugged into their device that it becomes a barrier to communication with their child."

A recent study from Stirling University's school of education found that the family's attitude to technology at home was an important factor in influencing a child's relationship with it.

It concluded: "The experiences of three to five-year-olds are mediated by each family's distinct sociocultural context and each child's preferences.

"The technology did not dominate or drive the children's experiences; rather their desires and their family culture shaped their forms of engagement."

Christine Stephen, study author and research fellow at Stirling, says most parents understand the dangers of addiction and passivity, and set up rules on screen time to make sure that children do a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities.

Bad habit

But there are other experts in the field who disagree.

Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman has regularly said that children are watching more screen media than ever, and that this habit should be curbed because it could lead to addiction or depression.

Start Quote

We can get in a terrible panic about [screen time], but toddlers are very curious and savvy”

End Quote Helen Moylett Early Education charity

He calculates that children born today will have spent a full year glued to screens by the time they reach the age of seven.

If true, few people would argue that this fact is scary.

Yet, if only 9% of UK children do not have access to a computer at home or school, as studies suggest, then screens are pervasive. There is no going back.

The key must be for children to use their time in front of them to best advantage by downloading the best apps and the right software to aid their learning.

Jackie Marsh, professor of education at the University of Sheffield, says there needs to be more research done in this area.

"We are going to outline what we feel should be the principles for good apps because there is a lack of a central resource for teachers.

"It's not just a case of giving them the iPad," she says.

"It's finding the right quality of apps that's important."

Develop skills

She also maintains that good-quality programs and particular software can help children with learning difficulties develop the skills they are lacking.

Online environments can also provide children with a virtual space to develop in confidence - something they might not be able to do in the home or the classroom, she says.

Her message to parents is that two hours of screen time each day is enough for children aged six and under.

Although there is a minority who consider screens not to be healthy, there is no evidence to suggest they are detrimental, Prof Marsh adds.

Children quickly get bored with one type of media, research suggests, and tend to combine screen time with playing with toys and running around in circles outdoors.

"We can get in a terrible panic about this, but toddlers are very curious and savvy," Ms Moylett says.

"Children are going to be exposed to all sorts of things."

Perhaps, in the end, they just want to enjoy technology the way adults do.

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 226.

    Dad I need a pc for my school work is a utter lie kids say to there parents.
    Its all about games and social media.
    Mobile phones and computers turn children into atom atoms with poor social skills and poor manners.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 225.

    224.Black_And_Proud

    "I played football and cricket with the kids today, and had a nerf gun battle. Does that count?"

    I don't know, technically football and cricket aren't two player games and a nerf battle kind of imples more than two people.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 224.

    @222 paul
    "Yes reading stories is great but have you tried playing two player games with your child also?"

    I played football and cricket with the kids today, and had a nerf gun battle. Does that count?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 223.

    I started programming when I was 6 and it used to infuriate me when my parents restricted my computer time. There's plenty to learn from tablets and toddlers learning to use them at an early age can only be a good thing in my opinion. More is coming, there'll be a tablet per child in school soon and I believe mass-dissemination of information is the likeliest way to bring peace to the world.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 222.

    Yes reading stories is great but have you tried playing two player games with your child also?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 221.

    I think that reading stories to your child is the greatest gift you can give your child.

    Sub-contracting your child's development to a screen is sheer laziness.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 220.

    217.Graham

    "That's like saying it's OK for a toddler to have a packet of crisps a day"

    It's not ideal, but isn't it OK as long as that's not all they eat everyday, one packet of crisps?

    "or for a pregnant woman to have a couple of cigarettes or an alcoholic drink per day"

    That's a bit of a extreme comparison isn't it?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 219.

    My two grandsons both have laptops and have been able to use the internet since before they could read. Having to ask what instuction boxes said helped the older one to learn to read,the younger one has just started school but has been able to find anything related to Dr Who since his mum judged him competent enough to use his own laptop at 4yrs old .computer literacy is now as important as books!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 218.

    I haven't got a problem with kids using computers / tablets its essential to understand these from an early age in today's world. Moderation is key, my kids have no more than 70 hours a week on the XBox.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 217.

    "...two hours of screen time each day is enough for children aged six and under." You're joking. That's like saying it's OK for a toddler to have a packet of crisps a day, or for a pregnant woman to have a couple of cigarettes or an alcoholic drink per day. Two hours of screen-time a day is far too much for a 5 year old. Two hours a week more like - in 30 minute (maximum) daily bursts.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 216.

    213.Thomas

    "Wrong comparison. What matters isn't how computers compare to television, but how both compare to playing with real, physical objects."

    I wasn't aware that computers and TVs weren't real physical objects. That's one big group hallucination we got going on here.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 215.

    My little toddler started to Skype me on mum's iPad many months before his second birthday.

    To him I assume that it is normality.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 214.

    when aric sigman gets quoted in the daily mail, no-one is surprised, but the bbc? shame on you, philippa roxby. please run your scientific 'experts' past your science team before publishing. http://www.badscience.net/category/aric-sigman/

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 213.

    "children aged between two and three were more likely to respond to video screens that prompted children to touch them than to a video screen that demanded no interaction"

    Wrong comparison. What matters isn't how computers compare to television, but how both compare to playing with real, physical objects.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 212.

    Very funny story there telecomguru, LOL.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 211.

    Moderation is the key when using electronic devices such as tablets, computers or game consoles as interaction with people is important in a childs development. Plus the quality of app or game is fundamental to how children learn that help them develop critical thinking and problem solving skills along with a set of broad educational apps eg geography, history,science etc that keeps them grounded.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 210.

    let the kids have them after all they know how to use them better than most of us just keep an eye on what they are doing and on what it is costing you .

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 209.

    As with most things, these gadgets are just tools. How they are used can be beneficial or detrimental depending on what they are used for. Sure they can help with learning, but at the same time you can only learn so much from a screen and experiencing is usually the best teacher.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 208.

    Moderation is the key. If you're taking your child for walks, reading books etc, they can play iPhones and the like, it's not a problem. I've come to the conclusion that screens are so prevalent now there's no point being precious about restricting it, just make sure you do other things as well.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 207.

    So. "parents know best for their children ...", is this why we have a measles epidemic in Wales?

 

Page 1 of 12

 

More Health stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.