UTAH FAMILIES: Help children use technology in appropriate ways

Story by Wei Qiu
Mon, Dec 17, 2012
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“Should we let children use technology?” This is a question we often hear from parents and teachers. Before answering the question, we need to first consider: “Is it possible NOT to let children use technology?”

Traditional technology devices such as television and videos are so common that we sometimes feel weird if we don’t have them in our homes. In this rapidly changing digital age, new technology is becoming more and more pervasive in the lives of young children.

According to a national study by the Common Sense Media in 2011, about 52 percent of U.S. children under 8 now have access to one of the newer mobile devices at home, such as the iPad, video iPod, smartphone or other tablet device; and 29 percent of parents have downloaded applications for their children, including infants and toddlers, to use.

Our children are growing up naturally immersed in a world of technology. Trying to isolate children from the technology environment does not seem realistic.

A wealth of research has indicated a negative impact from media use, particularly on childhood obesity and child aggression. Those findings are centered on traditional, noninteractive types of technology, in which children take a passive role.

New technologies such as the iPad are interactive media that allow the child to take the initiative and to solve problems independently. Little research has been done to examine the effects of new technology on child outcomes, particularly in home or early care and education settings.

A recent study I conducted at Weber State University tested whether iPad use in preschool classrooms had any effect on children’s learning and development. Teachers structured various learning activities by letting children use the iPad during curriculum time. The apps selected for the iPad activities were quality educational ones that allowed active, open-ended learning experiences.

For example, iWriteWords is an appropriate tool for preschoolers to practice writing and increase picture vocabulary; Starfall ABCs is a good app to help children learn alphabet and develop phonemic awareness; and MonkeyMath teaches children basic math skills.

The result of my study shows that children who had used the iPad in the classroom for a few months under the guidance of their teachers had higher literacy and math scores than those without access to iPad.

Here are a few suggestions for parents to help children use new technology in an appropriate way:

• When you search for apps for your child to use, focus on educational ones that allow for open-ended discovery and exploration. Avoid apps that are just games.

• Always evaluate the apps downloaded to your tablet device before letting your child use them.

• Provide guidance when your child is engaged in technology use.

• Be creative about integrating technology into your child’s regular learning activities; for example, you may use an iPad literacy app to teach the child to write letters.

• Treat technology as a unique learning tool instead of a baby sitter for your child.

• Discourage any media use for children younger than 2 years. Limit total media time to no more than one to two hours per day for children older than 2 years of age.

Wei Qiu is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.

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