The Net Generation is appropriately named - they have been immersed in the digital world at an increasingly early age. And with a new generation growing up in an even more intensely digital environment, kids are hard-wired to be, well, wireless.
But how young is too young? According to a study by The Digital Diaries and Internet security firm AVG, 19% of 2-5 year-olds know how to operate a smart phone or tablet. For comparison, only 11% can tie their shoelaces unaided. The question is not if technology will be a part of a child’s life, (there is so much great learning potential), but how it should be appropriately and advantageously used.
We know why tablets are the most popular “toys” for adults. They have big, colorful screens. The touch/multi-touch interface is an easy way to interact. Direct, on-screen manipulation is much easier than ‘mouse-action’. The user interface is simple - there are few (if any) menus, most of the applications have visual cues that are easily understood. And they’re really tough to crash.
All of the reasons adults love tablets hold true for kids as well. And while it’s increasingly common for parents to let their children use their grown-up tech toys, two of the biggest drawbacks of children playing with adult tablets are: a.) the potential for unsupervised web access and b.) content that isn’t really meant for young children.
Dr. Eric Klopfer, VTech’s platform learning expert and director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program, offers the following tips for parents as they introduce their children to the latest technology has to offer.
Like parent, like child: Find crave-worthy toys that have technology and features that are similar to the “grownup” tablets, like touch screens and tilt sensors, but are “kid-proof” and designed to withstand the inevitable bumps and bruises. If you can accidentally drop your tablet, you know your kid will as well.
Learning is fun: The best tech toys for kids are specifically designed with learning applications baked right into the hardware and software. This “sneaky learning” is a great way to add more educational punch when kids think they are having playtime.
Not Totally Tech: Tablet time should not replace “block time” or “playing in the dirt time”, these are important for every child. Where it can help is replacing “TV time”, giving kids an active outlet instead of passively watching the tube.
Age appropriateness: Evaluate educational tech toys by age grade. Introduce tech toys when a child is ready for them, and check to make sure the content is right for a child’s age to avoid frustrating them with activities that are too advanced.
A Balancing Act: While passively consuming media for hours has little value, interaction with a tablet through drawing, practicing letters, interacting with story book and playing learning games are all worthwhile activities. It’s all about balance.