Not all apps are created equal!I’m beginning to get a little tired of articles and blog posts lamenting the evils of apps for young children – but failing to distinguish between the different types of apps out there. Time after time, whether it’s on Twitter, someone’s blog, in a newspaper article, wherever, I read about how damaging TV, video games, and apps are to the development of young children. As though all of these things are somehow the same.
I was really disappointed to read a blog post in a similar vein from a blogger I really like – Lisa Sunbury on RegardingBaby.org. (Incidentally, while we might disagree on this one point, Lisa’s blog is always interesting and thought-provoking. So if you haven’t read it before, I highly recommend that you check it out. Lisa is an advocate of the RIE parenting philosophy, which teaches parents to tune into their babies’ individual needs. )
The blog post I took exception to was “Five Good Reasons to Hand Your Car Keys Over to Your Toddler“. In this post, Lisa makes a tongue-in-cheek comparison between handing your toddler the car keys, and giving them your iPhone or iPad to play with. She concludes the article with the following:
Imagine if I rewrote that paragraph replacing the word “computers” with “books”. Imagine the uproar, the outrage! I can imagine the responses:
“But children have so much to gain from reading books!”
“Story-time with my child is a wonderful bonding experience for us both!”
“Learning to read is a vital tool for my child’s future success!”
“Reading books increases children’s attention spans!”
“Books allow me to expose my child to cultures and stories that we wouldn’t otherwise encounter in our day-to-day lives!”
And you know what? I would agree – 100% One of my favourite parts of each day is sitting down with Little Man, reading him his favourite story. (This week we are reading “The Three Little Pigs” three to four times each night. I admit, I’m getting a little tired of it, but Little Man just loves it!) Storytime is a special time for us, that involves snuggling up, holding the book together, turning the pages of the book – mostly forwards but sometimes backwards! – and reading each page and talking about everything we see on it. I don’t doubt for a second that Little Man benefits from it. And I know he enjoys his storybooks, because he regularly pulls one down from the shelf to flick through for himself.
But where my opinion differs from that of Lisa Sunbury (and others who believe iPad apps are similar to TV in terms of their impact on children’s development) is that I believe many apps are more closely related to books than they are to TV programmes. I’d even go so far as to say some are better than books.
Like many things in life, there are good ways and there are bad ways that iPads and iPhones can be used with children. If you sit and read a story app with your child on the iPad, how is that detrimental to them when reading a book is accepted as being beneficial? What about parents who have difficulty reading? Think about how beneficial the iPad can be to them in helping them enjoy storytime with their kids. Many apps have the option to read the story to you if you can’t read it yourself.
Or what about the Flashcard apps? I never really hear people complain about Flashcards being used in early education, but in many ways traditional Flashcards are so limited compared to iPad versions. Consider First Words – one of our favourite apps. In this app, a picture appears with some blank letter spaces beneath it and the letters for the word appear as scattered tiles across the screen. You and your child drag each letter to the appropriate placeholder and once the word is complete, it is read aloud. Through this app, Little Man learned to manipulate objects onscreen, he learned to shape-match letters, he learned quite a number of his letters in context, and he learned object names just as he would if he was reading a picture book with me.
Or the simpler apps like Peekaboo Barn, which taught him to recognise Farm Animals, again just like a picture book? Or I Hear Ewe, which taught him animal sounds? He was 18 months old when he started making buzzing noises when he saw a picture of a bee – he hadn’t even started saying words at that stage.
Talking about apps as though they are all the same – worthless entertainment that dulls our children’s brains – is no different to dismissing all forms of music out of hand, because you’ve heard some questionable pop songs! Not all apps are created equal.
Sure if you hand children an iPad, and allow them do nothing other than watch clips on YouTube, or play Space Invaders on it all day, I doubt you’ll see any educational benefits for them! But if you pick and choose the apps you download for your child – and then you use those apps with your child, the experience can be beneficial to you both.
And one final note – I think we are all agreed that learning to read and write are life skills. I would argue that in today’s world, using technology is a life skill. It’s part of the world around him, and Little Man is naturally curious about it, as children tend to be about their surroundings! So just as we guide Little Man through his first experiences with reading and writing, so too we guide him through his first experiences with technology.