Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Are toddlers too young for technology?

This post was on our original blog which we replaced. I came across an article lately which discussed this topic again and thought it was worth has been slightly re-worded as the TV programme discussed was aired that week, and it was around two years ago!

It has been a debate for some time now but ITV’s Tonight’s focus was on the question, “Are toddlers too young for technology?” It was a very interesting watch, both from a personal perspective (I have a nephew of primary school age) and a professional perspective (working for Reflective Thinking – thought leaders on technology in education). The programme was definitely worth a watch but unfortunately it's no longer available on ITV Player (it may be available on YouTube but I can't guarantee quality). As a summary though, throughout the documentary, many questions were asked and explored by the presenter and they incorporated views both for and against. The perspectives included teachers, headteachers, parents, psychologists, learning experts, technology experts and very importantly, the children themselves.

A screenshot of the show
A key section of the show was a small experiment: seven children went into a room and were observed by a psychologist, and their parents. This group went into one of the rooms at a time, as different content was included in each:
  1. More ‘traditional’ toys
  2. Technology like smartphones and tablets
  3. Both traditional toys and technology
Interestingly, in all three situations, the children found something to occupy them (except one child asked for her iPad after a while in session one). It was quite striking seeing the difference between collaboration and playing together from 1, to 2 and 3. The more traditional toys were primarily shared and used together, they talked amongst themselves and worked a high level of interaction was present. In both 2 and 3, for almost the full duration, all children sat individually, 1 on 1 with their seperate screens.

What came to mind for me here was that essentially, it is very important to consider what the children are doing on the tablet, rather than seeing a tablet or smartphone as ‘one thing’ with ‘one sole purpose’. The choice of applications and games available now is vast – some for individual play and some for group play. This could play a part in how they are used and whether they are interacting with other children while using, or are completely one-on-one with their tablet. In these experiments, although not specifically confirmed, the apps being used were most likely educational: they may be in the form of a game, but they are offering educational benefits at the same time.

One point to think about is; was the reason the traditional toys were used in groups of 2-3 because they were designed that way? In light of the learning expert on the show saying that “face to face contact is vital for communication” and tablets may  “actually be preventing children from interacting with other children and learning how to behave through practise”, do we need to focus on creating more apps and games that are designed specifically for use of 2-3, if we want children to interact more, and build those collaboration skills? Another point is how the technology is used too – is it a replacement for interaction, or actually an addition, to help interaction and learning?

Working together, collaborating
Our area of expertise is slightly older children (from 7+), but some elements of Reflective Thinking’s research could be applied to younger children too. Digital Mysteries are specifically designed for working in pairs or small groups. The whole concept is based around it being an additional tool for learning and developing useful skills (like higher level thinking, problem-solving), one that complements the teacher, rather than replacing the teacher (or parent/guardian/leader).

Maybe this idea could be applied to apps aimed at younger children too, with an aim to make apps or games something to be shared with each other, or with their parent/teacher rather than an individual experience. This way, one of the key problems brought up in the documentary – that devices can prohibit children interacting and developing social skills for life - could be combatted, yet the children will still benefit from the advantages the devices bring; like preparing them for their future where technology will be a major part of their lives. One of the major arguments to come from the programme – which takes into account case studies at nurseries like Cogan Nursery in Penarth – is that the use of such devices must be in balance with non-screen time.

Especially with young toddlers, it seems that a “bit of both” is seen as the best situation – what do you think? If you have any opinions on this, please write a comment - I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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