Are parents today creating a generation of passive zombies, weaned on touch screens and blinking smiley faces? Or are they giving junior a jump on the competition by ditching finger painting in favor of the latest technology?
A recent survey conducted by PBS reports that a staggering 70 percent of parents allow their toddlers and young kids to use their iPad. The same polled parents have downloaded an average of eight apps designed specifically for kids. Which isn’t a surprise considering we see children playing with digital devices wherever we go: restaurants, waiting rooms, nestled in their car seats, on the play structure at the park. What gives?
Kids these days are not called digital natives for nothing. They are proud, card-carrying members of Generation Now and consider it a given that access to technology is a right and the superior tool for both entertainment and learning. Constant access to technology is here to stay and kids have embraced it like extra toppings on an ice cream cone. The job of parents is not to deprive them but to help them manage their consumption.
The phenomenon of the iPad, and touch screen technology in general, has served to reinforce this trend across all age groups but perhaps most notably among young children and toddlers. iPads rate higher in the childproof department than a laptop, so parents are more inclined to let their small children use them. There is no keyboard to spill gooey food onto, no mechanical parts to snap off, and the touch screen is easy for clumsy little fingers to use. An added bonus is that it fits nicely in a diaper bag.
New apps catering to the under five set are developed every day; many of which (e.g., Fairies Fly and Wheels on the Bus) are digital variations of timeless kid classics. iPads are also replacing the messy hassle of painting and other art projects with no-muss-no-fuss art apps. It was only a matter of time before someone came out with a child-specific tablet, and Isabella Products has done just that with the Fable. This tablet comes loaded with a special content management system designed to protect kids from inappropriate content and unfamiliar people.
The ever-expanding digital platform is a booming industry. Though its economic roots are firmly fixed in entertainment, the convergence of consumer technology with instructive classroom technology is happening in a big way. When used effectively, technology in the classroom can engage students in ways that traditional teaching methods cannot.
In the words of noted educational researcher Dr. Milton Chen, "Technology gives us wheels for the mind." The digital transition in the classroom is well underway and more and more educators are embracing the shift. Access to technology is considered as integral to the 21st century classroom as textbooks, if not more so. According to Harvard professor Richard Murnane, "the challenge is to rethink not what is taught but how teachers empower students to use that information."
Indeed, technology is an incredible tool that can be tailored to meet individual learning styles and promote collaboration, a vital skill for the 21st century. A relatively established mainstay in high schools and universities, technology is also aggressively embraced in pre-school and early primary grades, thanks in large part to tablet technology and its kid-friendly interface.
To stay in step with the world according to digital natives, the goal for the classroom must be to sync up itself with the technology culture so prevalent outside of the classroom. In the push for universal adoption, the issue has shifted from whether technology is a good thing to how to provide access at an earlier age. It is a sign of the times when your kindergartner’s supply list includes a flash drive in addition to stalwarts such as glue and crayons.
From toddlers on, the trend toward embracing technology is here to stay, so the challenge is to learn how to make it work for you and your children. There are certainly pitfalls, but they are largely avoidable by paying attention to how your children are interacting with digital devices.
The biggest concern that remains is how to protect your kids from exposure to inappropriate content or people. Be sure to use security software with parental setting for peace of mind. Outside of that, modeling responsible usage of technology and teaching your children the gravity of technology’s place in every day life are vital. Using a device as a babysitter or letting your child download an app as a reward for eating her broccoli reinforces the notion that these devices are simply toys, when in reality they are portals to a world of knowledge, collaboration and insight.
Although we are putting these digital tools into the hands of babes, with a little vigilance on our part, the kids will be all right. In fact, they will be more than all right—they’ll grow up to be digital citizens who embrace the challenges of the world they will inherit.
By Tracy Mardigian