Do Tablets and Smartphones Help Kids Learn?
Those of you who love all things tech will know that this week CES International 2012 took place. I was thrilled to be able to attend. Let me just say there are a whole lot of exciting products launching for kids (and moms and dads, too)! I’m still processing all the amazing gadgets I got to try out and learn about, so I’m going to hold off until the next post to give you a thorough look at the hot technology you should know about.
Now for a not-so-smooth segue into the topic at hand. As I was in a crowded corner of the show, speaking with the marketing manager for 3M’s touch screens, she candidly asked me an interesting question, “Do you think all these gadgets we’re giving kids are actually hurting them intellectually? Isn’t it over stimulation? Will they even be able to function in the real world eventually?” Her question is one that is asked by nearly every parent, teacher, grandparent, doctor and anyone else who cares about children’s development.
Our little family loves technology. My husband builds computers from scratch, I am obsessed with gadgets and our kids know their way around an iPhone and iPad better than most adults. I admit it – we’re addicted.
Having majored in education in college, I have often wondered if all the educational apps I have our 2 and 3-year-old playing are really doing them any good. I’ve read the articles and heard the interviews, but have been surprised at the lack of actual studies done on the question. I’m a skeptic and wanted to test it for myself. Just recently, my husband and I made a startling discovery.
Our 2-year-old taught himself to read…with the help of our iPad.
Sure, I taught him the alphabet and letter sounds, but nothing much beyond that. He’s only 2 – I was waiting until his third birthday to begin the basics of phonics and teaching him how to decode simple words. Obviously, my initial reaction was to think I owed all my thanks to the iPad, but that would simply be incorrect logic. Our 3-year-old plays the same games and can read simple words, but she did not teach herself – she would rather be outside doing cartwheels than sounding out words. Lincoln, our two-year-old, however has natural intellectual tendencies and the iPad simply suits his independent learning style. He can sit for hours and play around with letters and words and not get bored of it. Not every child can or will naturally do this.
Now, of course, our experience alone is not sufficient evidence to prove that tablets and other technological devices can help kids learn. This video, featuring a study done by experts, provides more substantial evidence than our seemingly-isolated experience.
Of course, balance is key in everything. If a school is considering implementing iPads into every educational program their curriculum offers, I would strongly discourage them from doing so. Some subjects lend themselves better to lecture format and could be seriously hampered by the exclusive use of iPads. Excessive use can also hamper children’s ability to listen well and comprehend auditorially.
Most parents, however, send their children to school that do not use tablets or computers heavily. As the video and study above demonstrates, tablets can be a wonderful way for children to get excited about subjects they typically appall. Thankfully, hundreds of wonderful developers have taken on the subjects of math and reading with vigor and the app store is loaded with wonderful options for parents to utilize. We have certainly benefited from them as a family.
I strongly encourage parents to do research and formulate their own opinion on this topic – every “expert” has a different opinion which is often not based on real-life studies, but rather on their own philosophical projections. As a family, we have decided to include the iPad when it comes to particular learning objectives and we’ve had great success with it. Each child is different and will respond to technology differently as their learning style develops. Ultimately, it boils down to you understanding your child and how he or she will best learn (whether than means including a tablet device or excluding it altogether).
If you love keeping your devices loaded up with educational apps, I highly recommend you become a regular reader for Moms With Apps. The wonderful ladies who run the site work tirelessly to keep parents informed about new educational apps as well as keeping parents informed about privacy issues regarding children’s apps.
I know there are dozens of opinions on this topic and every parent needs to delve into the controversy for themselves. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter of handheld devices for the use of education in the comments below!
Hannah Camacho is an educator, mom to three wonderful children ages 3 and younger and proud wife of an Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran. She is the founder of MyAppinions.com and TheAppNanny.com. When she’s not chasing her three busy little ones, she does freelance work for application developers as a mobile app marketing and pr specialist.