There is no question that unmonitored technology and screen time can have a negative effect on our youngest children because fast music, flashing images, and violence can create kids that expect to be entertained all the time, develop poor social and behavior skills and have limited creativity. The question on every new parent’s mind is “How much is too much?” The American Academy of Pediatrics‘s answer to that question was originally no TV for kids under 2 and only 2 hours for older children. But, that recommendation was issued prior to the iPad and the plethora of apps aimed at wee ones. In fact, one of the authors of AAP guidelines restricting media use, updated his opinion in an article stating interactive media for children under 2 years is acceptable for 30 to 60 minutes a day.
In “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use” the AAP provided further guidance to parents. Two of the main points to remember with apps is that media is just another environment and parenting has not changed. We need to monitor apps for violence, positive interactions and effective teaching techniques. I have read and applied the guidelines and created a curated list of apps for my son. I have decided to share them to help other parents on their journey to make good choices about media for their children as well. One of my goals is to help parents find interactive apps that stimulate learning, creativity and bonding. Dr. Ari Brown, the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ group investigating media use and children explained that passive shows and videos don’t stimulate the brain but interaction via video chat stimulates the child’s brain. Similarly, I feel select apps are the best screen time or form of technology because they are interactive and responsive. Even the most interactive show can’t correct your child and won’t stop and wait for your child to answer questions like an app. In fact, a large study at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom found that 5-year-olds who watched more than 3 hours per day of television were more likely to have worse conduct by the age 7, but the same stretch of video gaming had no effect on conduct. Further, an app can progress with your child’s development.
While parental curation is important, the way you use these apps is just as important. All of these apps are so fun to do with my son. We love learning and creating together and I encourage him to send his creations to his father and grandparents. It helps connect him to others and discuss what he has learned. It is also a great way to transition away from the iPad. Zero to Three, a nonprofit organisation focused on infants and toddlers, published a guide entitled “Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight,” which stated, “research also shows that when parents and other trusted adults make screen use an interactive, shared experience, it can become a tool for learning, and the potential negative effects can be reduced.” Dr. Rachel Barr, one of the author’s of the report, conducted research finding that 2 1/2 to 3-year-olds learn from magnet puzzles just as well as they learn touch screen puzzles in an app with their parent’s assistance. However, they have a hard time translating what they have learned to the real world. As stated in Zero to Three’s report, parents have vital role in learning through technology. A child can learn on an iPad but a parent needs to help the child with the app and help translate the experience into the real world. Therefore, it is essential that parents work with their kid the first time they use an app. Once I have helped my son learn how the app works, he is able to continue to build on skills independently.
I have chosen the apps I allow my son to use based on their content. I try to focus on the content of the app rather than the technology. So, when I read a story to him, I focus on the characters and the storyline, not the animation. I also try to find activities that link the activities in the app to real world. For example, I have used my son’s writing app to have him practice a letter on the app and then write the letter with a crayon on paper. I have used science and technology apps in connection with trips to our local science museum. The applications are endless but the idea is the same. The iPad can be a great springboard for learning in the real world. While I’m not constantly applying these activities to the real world, I believe making the concrete connection between the app the the real world once, helps him have a deeper understanding of the app and its real-life applications.
Choosing the right apps can be difficult. A helpful tool for curation is Common Sense Media, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing unbiased information and advice about media and technology as a positive force in kids’ lives. Even still, I have spent many late nights scouring iTunes, Common Sense, and the internet to select apps that I thought my son would like. Then, I tried those apps to make sure they didn’t have too many pop-up ads and were well developed. Finally, I tried the new apps with my son to see how he actually used them and whether they were developmentally appropriate for him and kept his interest without making him tune-out.
Over the next few posts I will provide a list of the apps my 4 1/2-year-old son and I love. All of these apps are teaching apps. None of these recommendations were sponsored. They are simply a little help for the next mother of a curious preschooler.
As with everything, I am sure my son will out grow these apps and I will have to go through this whole process all over again at the same time as buying new shoes and clothes. For that reason, I have tried to stick to free apps but sometimes you get what you pay for. I prefer apps that at least provide a free trial but if my son really liked them, I bought them and they were worth every penny. Your child may have different preferences and these free lite apps allow you to explore without risk. One great thing about apps is that they don’t take up room in your home.
I invite you to explore apps and have lots of fun (but not too much). As with everything, iPad apps should be used in moderation.