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Have you got an iToddler?

Learning to use the iPad at 9 months oldI think I have an iToddler on my hands! As you’ve probably guessed if you’ve been following this blog, Little Man loves the iPad and iPhone. (Maybe a little too much – this morning he managed to dial one of my friends who is unlucky enough to have a name beginning with “A” at the early hour of 6am! I’m sure they weren’t too impressed!)

Knowing I’d be interested in it, my brother sent me this article yesterday: Are iPads Good For Kids? The author of the post maintains that interacting with an iPad too early in life will distort a child’s understanding of how the physical world works, by confusing them with virtual interactions. Hmmn. Maybe I would agree with this if we were talking about leaving a child locked in a room with an iPad for their only interaction through their formative years. But child neglect cases aside, I don’t think that’s how the majority of toddlers and young children experience the iPad and similar technologies.

One aspect of the article is true – children are coming to technology younger and younger. And the iPad certainly has a role to play in that. In order to learn to use a computer, a child first has to learn how to use an input device – a mouse, or a keyboard. And making that leap in understanding to connect the movement of the cursor on screen to the movement of the physical mouse isn’t enough. A child must also develop the dexterity to manipulate the mouse to move the cursor. But with the iPad…well the only input device a baby requires is their finger!

If watching Little Man using the iPad has taught me anything, it’s that Apple’s catchphrase “You already know how to use it” could easily be changed to “You were born knowing how to use it.” The learning curve seemed minimal – in fact, for ages, Little Man’s main frustration was in learning how to develop his dexterity enough so that he could do what he wanted to do with the iPad! As soon as he could control his finger movements, he could use the iPad. I am not foolish enough to believe that this is because I’m raising some kind of technological genius. No folks. This is a by-product of good usability. You want to open an app – touch it. You want to move to the next screen on the right – swipe from left to right. You want to move back – do the opposite!

Just because a child may test out the gestures that work on an iPad on other objects and be surprised to learn that they don’t work on those other objects, doesn’t mean that the child’s view of the world is skewed. It just means that the child is learning how many different objects work. What do you do when you try to use something new? First you try to use it the way you have used similar objects in the past. And only when you discover that those techniques don’t work, then you try new techniques. Much as a child will do when he or she encounters something new.

Whether or not the iPad has a detrimental effect on a child’s development has much less to do with how it works than how it’s used. Of course, if you treat your iPad like an iBabysitter and allow your child to use it for the majority of the day with no supervision there may be negative side effects. But I don’t believe that’s how the majority of people use their iPad with toddlers. It’s too expensive!!

When we use the iPad with Little Man, we sit with him and play with him. I’ve heard people equate its use to too much TV, but TV is passive. Using the iPad is not. We use it to draw, to read stories, to play games together. We use it for Flashcards, for video, and for photographs.  Despite all that, the iPad is just a small part of Little Man’s day. The majority of his day involves physical activities – kicking and throwing a ball, riding a trike, climbing a couch, building a tower of blocks, making jigsaws, pushing a buggy! :)

I believe that the gentle introduction to technology that the iPad presents for children is an important activity for Little Man. He is part of  the iGeneration. And I believe that it’s going to be as important for him to learn to interact with the virtual world effectively – and safely – as it is for him to do so with the physical world. The iPad is just one little piece of this learning process.

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