Recently, I have had a few calls from anxious teachers and parents concerned about the use of mobile devices in early childhood education. An online survey conducted by a UK tech company has been highlighted in themedia, causing concern as the news headlines suggest that for many babies their first word is ‘tablet’. In fact, the survey states that one in eight babies say tablet as their very first word — even before the words Mum and Dad. This is concerning especially when 3,614 parents took part in the study. This would mean than 289 children say tablet before they say any other word!
I find this hard to believe. We know that young children’s first words develop from people and things that are important to them such as parents, siblings, pets and other major items in children’s worlds. For children’s first word to be tablet, these devices would have to be very significant in their lives. If they are, then rather than criticise the ‘tablet,’ should we instead be looking more at who is putting these devices in the hands of infants and toddlers — so much so that these young children are choosing this as their first word?
The impact of tablets on our society is seen in the drive to market supporting products to young children including devices that hold tablets such as bouncers and toilet training devices. However, the ultimate decision for purchase is up to us, as adults as is the way we enable our children to interact with these devices and products, and the time we allow for them to do this.
I believe that tablet use can support young children’s learning. However, there are certain conditions that make this so including having purpose, being supported by an adult and that children create rather than consume content (screen-time). At no stage, should a tablet should become a vital part of an infant or toddlers world or replace any other learning area. Balance and purpose of use are essential when considering learning for young children.
Studies like the one mentioned above provide us the opportunity to question and reflect. So, while I do not concur with the findings of this particular study or the way that some of the relating headlines have portrayed tablets as dangerous to young children, it has led to some interesting discussions about mobile device use. More importantly, it is a good reminder to think about purpose and balance of mobile devices particularly in regards to young children.
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