All the research coming out about tablets with young children and learning has been pointing at one (or two) glaringly clear idea–One: tablets are not a be all end all in terms of learning, just like strictly books are not the only way children learn. When used in combination with tactile learning experiences, physical play, and engaged parental/guardian/teacher experiences, it is a great tool. A wonderful way to experience new ideas, read, play, and learn.
The second idea is that because this technology is so new, there isn’t a ton of research, so even the experts aren’t entirely clear about what the best amount of screen time is, or what long-term effects children growing up with this new media will have. It is all about engagement and what works best for you and your family. The general rule of thumb says moderation is key. When is it not? How is that any different from how much tv to watch, or how many sweets to eat, or how much time to spend in the sun without a hat on?
The key is, like all experiences in life, variety and engagement. Plopping a child in front of any kind of screen and expecting a full-on genius to stand up is not going to happen in most (if any) cases.
One of our great programs, which deals with iPads and their use with children and their caregivers, app suggestion, and best practice isn’t doing well. Why, you might ask? Because caregivers coming to iPad, and even traditional print storytime, programs with the children and expect that 45 minutes to talk and let kids go. They want to sip their coffee, and gossip, and let the kids do whatever in a confined space, as long as it is on their own. While solo exploration can be a great learning experience for a child, that is not what this type of program is about. Now, this is not the majority, of course, and it is not typical, and I am not calling any one parent out. I am talking in generalities.
A caveat before we continue, the behavior I just talked about is not the case for EVERY parent, nor is it the rule. It is just something that I have observed in my own classes, and have heard from coworkers and colleagues: A general observation. So get off that high horse for a minute before you start berating me about x,y, or z. This is a tough idea to get behind, and it’s an unpopular thought that parents are not doing their utmost to ensure that their child is engaged, and that’s not (necessarily) what I’m saying. Sometimes we have off days and just need that 5 minutes, I get it, but that is not what our iPad classes are about. We are not babysitters, we are encouragers of the profound, the jumpers and singers and dancers, the readers, the writers, the experimenters. We, as librarians, want to share what we’ve learned, and talk with you about what has worked and hasn’t worked with you. That’s the whole point of having conversations, so we can learn from one another.
Passivity is not how learning happens. And while this is not something that parents like to hear, it IS up to them and it IS their responsibility to make sure that their child is engaged, that they are there to explain and unpack the complex experiences that are happening on the screen, or on the page, or in real life. Librarians and teachers can talk until we are blue in the face, but if you aren’t willing to engage and interact with your child, or with us, even in front of something passive like a screen, then these devices and ideas are doomed to fail.
I have expressed my ideas that iPads should never be used as placating devices. They shouldn’t be used as distraction from bad behavior, or as bribes to get kids to eat. These uses reinforce negative behaviors. I scream and cry and get the ipad. I don’t eat and get the ipad. Use it as time together, to explore and create. There is so much potential with these devices (and with print-based books too, don’t forget!) It’s not about the media you use, it’s about spending time together.
Check out this list of apps for joint engagement.
Here’s a great video about how to choose the right apps for you and your family.