iPhones, Tablets, Apps and... Kids

Recently we received an iPad in Science Playground through a grant introducing mobile technology on the museum floor. To be honest, we were a bit lost on the best ways to use it at first. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time for kids under two years, and many parents and early childhood caregivers are wary of exposing young kids to mobile technology. So we knew we had to be careful on how we decided to integrate the tool into demonstrations and classes.

But what we found was that using the iPad in addition to our hands enhanced learning. In our our animal footprint activity we were able to show mini clips of animals walking instead of still images of the creatures, helping children visualize how they moved. Explaining abstract concepts like decomposition became easier when we could show time lapse videos of food decaying. Instead of using a magnifying glass and microscope, which can be challenging for little fingers and eyes, we used an app that magnifies the object we are curious about.

Child and Mother with iPad

As we started using the iPad more frequently we began to get questions about which apps we liked and what best practices are for letting a three year old use an iPad or tablet device. This is such new technology and there is limited information and resources for fielding these questions. Assumptions will be changed as more research comes out but until then we are still looking for advice. So we turned to our trusty resource, our visitors! Did they use mobile technology with their kids? Why or why not? We asked them to help us make a create a collection of smart, kid-friendly apps that make the best use of mobile technology.

Here were some of the top recommendations:
Kids ABC Phonics (Android, iPhone or iPad)
ABC Mouse (iPhone or iPad)
First Words Deluxe (iPhone or iPad)
Zoo Train (iPhone or iPad)
Endless Alphabet (Android or iPhone)
Agnitus Personal Learning Program (iPad)
Google Earth (Android, iPhones or iPad)
Toca Boca Band (iPhone or iPad)
Mind Snacks (iPhone or iPad)
Reading Rainbow (iPad)
Trash Stash (Android, iPhone or iPad)
Sesame Street Podcast (iPhone or iPad)

We set up a bulletin board for visitors to contribute to and the responses were amazing. Not only were we able to get a list of recommended apps but we heard a variety of responses on how parents and other caregivers were introducing technology into their children's lives, and the concerns they had.

Surprisingly the responses were split about 40/60 on strong feelings against using mobile technology with kids. Some people wanted to wait until their children were older, others were frightened by the addictive nature of phones and tablets. A couple comments reflected on how as adults, it is important to model appropriate use of mobile technology to kids. There were grandparents who commented on how proud they were of how easy it was for their grandkids to use these devices.

One comment that really stuck with me and helped me navigate how to use our iPad with young visitors said simply, "iPads are tools, just like hammers and knives. All tools can be constructive or destructive, depending on how you use them. The tool is not the villain." We are all trying to figure this future out and having conversations about what works, what doesn't, what scares us, what excites us, and everything involved in new technology is part of that.

So, do you use mobile technology with your children? Tell us.

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When people fall back on simple aphorisms to resolve conflicts, I immediately see a red flag. "The tool is not the villain" is the equivalent of "Guns don't kill people". I realize, of course, that in Oregon, "People kill people". Unfortunately, kids kill people, cops kill people, drunks kill people, and fearful homeowners kill people. The availability and reliance on firearms is what kills people. Educators, even experienced teachers, often forget that it isn't simply the knowledge imparted through teaching that is important. Especially for children, but also for adults, we aren't just learning facts, we're also learning how to learn, conceptualize, and integrate new information. The tools we have available play an essential role in limiting what we learn. Is the value of seeing how an animal moves at an earlier age more important than learning how to extrapolate how an animal moves from a still photograph and your knowledge of how you move your own body? "The addictive nature of phones and tablets" stems from the fact that they allow us to "learn" without really exercising our brains. What they really do is substitute the acquiring of "facts" for learning. Have you stopped to wonder why so many people don't recognize how climate change is influenced by human behavior? The early adoption of "learning tools" is short changing our children. The late adoption of learning tools is no better, if we haven't developed a sense of how tools ameliorate how we think about things. If it makes a difference, I'm a "maker". I've been using, developing, and inventing tools for over fifty years. I'm well aware of how the adoption of new technology has enriched my life and enabled new accomplishments. I'm also painfully aware of how tool use impacts my mental capability.

My son will be 3 in April and he's amazing on the iPad from math to reading He types, plays games , numbers . it is our children's future.


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