One third of pre-schoolers already have a mobile device with some spending up to four hours a day on it - prompting calls from an early childhood educator for parents to use technology with their children, rather than using it to keep them occupied.
“We need to provide advice to parents on how they can utilise technology, so they don’t just throw the towel in, feeling guilty when their children are on their devices,” says Jessica Sargeant from Shichida Australia, a program which specialises in early education for children.
“There’s a lot of negativity around screens and children, all of which is leaving parents confused about what they should be doing,” says Ms Sargeant.
She says while it is essential parents don’t give screens to children under the age of 18 months, as their brains are at the peak stage of development, pre-schoolers and primary school aged children could still use devices in a healthy way – especially with parents or caregivers by their side.
“Unless you’re sitting there pointing to things on the screen with your child, those neural connections won’t form. It’s very important for parents or guardians to have lots of connected time with their children and that can still be done with screens.”
“Parents need to look at screens such as iPads and tablets as they do any other learning item around the house and interact with their child while using them,” she says.
“It’s not about saying here is your iPad – go and play with it while I’m cooking dinner – but more using it like a book, for example, asking questions and getting feedback. It’s a gadget yes, but if you’re sitting there with your child while they use it, it can be extremely beneficial for education.”
“You are your child’s first and best teacher and you should be using the tools – whatever they may be – a book, an iPad, a clock – to be teaching and interacting with your child.”
“During these early years, children want to learn. They want to be stimulated through puzzles, games and and discussion.”
Ms Sargeant says it is not a bad thing that primary school aged children, generally from about Grade 3 onwards, are having to use iPads and tablets at school.
“Tablets in school these days are as common as the board and the chalk. So long as they’re used as a tool and one of many,” she says.
“Educational apps are valuable assets for teachers, and parents, and can be used successfully alongside more traditional teaching methods.”
“It’s inevitable that schools will be using technology more and more and you don’t want your child to fall behind, either.”
Ms Sargeant outlines some ways to get interactive with kids when they are on screen time:
1. Use tablets and phones in a creative way
Get kids outside taking pictures of things starting with the letter A for example.
2. Enhance tech learning in the physical
Get outside and practise writing letters in the sand, or making shapes with twigs and sticks.
3. Play together
If your child is playing an educational game, there’s nothing wrong with playing it with them.
4. Engage when watching
Try taking breaks in a movie, or TV show, to discuss what’s happening. Ask questions, like what does that facial expression mean, or how do you think she feels?
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