Virtual insanity

Hoo boy.

Dozens of preschool and kindergarten teachers are adding iPads to their classroom stocks of pencils and paints in an effort to hook young learners with the newest technology craze at the same time—or even before—their parents adopt it.

Primary students in several Chicago-area schools geared up this year with the touch-screen tablets, an expense school officials defend in an era of tight budgets by citing how intuitive they are for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds raised in a world of ubiquitous technology and constant connectivity.

Seriously?   Kindergarteners eat things like iPads.

And lest you think this was a well-thought out plan with serious, mapped-out goals:

“At first, we thought this is a nice little toy. No one had any idea what this could do educationally,” said Principal Barbara Kent of Chicago’s Burley Elementary School, which debuted iPads this year in preschool, first and second grades.

Second grade?  Sure.  Second graders can talk in complete sentences and so forth.

But kindergarten?  Seriously?

(Caveat: I’m relying on my experience as an elementary school librarian/computer instructor for my generalizations about the grade levels.  It’s entirely possible that today’s kindergarteners are brilliant sophisticates who can mix a perfect martini instead of the keyboard chewing, monitor-drawing, mouse-throwing lovables that I remember. )


  1. Genevieve says:

    Young children are strange animals. My toddler can make the computer play Mr. Rogers. She would also color on it and try and eat it. The 2nd grader was the same in preschool. I’m sure that the children can probably get some use out of the iPads. I question if it is the best use of time and money, though.

  2. SuperSub says:

    I have seen some rather tech-savvy young adolescents… my concern is whether the expense of the iPad is actually providing a significant improvement over the tried and true paper and pencil elementary classroom. It just seems a much more expensive way to achieve the same goals.

  3. I bet an iPad would leave a nice “goose egg” if a kid hit another kid over the head with it.

    I dunno. I don’t even own a SMARTPHONE, though I’m beginning to think I need to get one, solely so I can get news of whether a tornado’s bearing down on me if the power goes out here. (None of the allegedly-local radio stations actually broadcast anything at all “local” news related)

  4. Sean Mays says:

    Shades of The Flickering Mind. Kids really NEED to get hands on practice with manipulatives to understand the concepts. As we remove kids further from the real world, I can only wonder how their connection to the natural world will be damaged, and how that impacts their ability to connect reality to ideas and abstractions. I remember teaching physics in an urban high school once. Several kids seriously did not know that water flowed down hill.

  5. My daughter was four when she first played with an iPhone. My nephew was three when he first got his hands on an iPad. Really – watch how preschoolers interact with the devices. The interfaces are incredibly intuitive. The kids I’ve seen with them aren’t eating them.

    There are educational iPad apps, some of which are very good. I haven’t explored enough paid educational apps to know whether I would presently bring iPads into a classroom, and I certainly would have concerns about their being dropped or stolen, but it doesn’t take much time to recognize that the iPad interface presents valuable opportunities for early education (and for higher grades).

    Short version: don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.

  6. Hi Michael,

    As 1 to 1 devices with kindergarteners, I agree completely, iPads are not the way to go. As devices which kids use occasionally as a replacement or supplement to literacy activities, I think iPads can be very useful. I’d go with a ratio of at most 1 to 6 though, because to be honest, I wouldn’t want my 5 year old using an iPad for more than an hour a day at school. That’s about the screen time we limited him to at home as well, at least on average.

    Disclosure: I’m a learning specialist for technology so I’m “supposed” to be pretty gung ho on this stuff.


  7. I’d have to place iPads in the same category as television. They’re alright in moderate doses. Still, I tend to agree with Sean Mays’s assessment. Particularly with this age group…

  8. Schools should focus on the technologies that children are unlikely to be exposed to at home. For middle class children, that would mean almost no use of screen-dependent technologies. For poor children, of course, you would want to make sure that they do learn the basics of computers/Ipads, but as a skill, not a common conveyer of content.

  9. I agree with Sean – my physics students are often woefully ignorant of relatively basic phenomenon – how the natural world acts, use of simple tools, how to solve real-life problems, etc.

    I don’t think K-3 is the place for IPads. These kids need REAL-LIFE manipulatives, real experiences, concrete learning. The inner-city kids need it as least as much, as many don’t go outside into their environment, which is not safe for exploration. During the day, many are inside, often in front of a TV. They are exposed to popular culture, kid shows, and cartoons.

    Where these MIGHT be useful is for kids without internet access, since the access is built-in (perhaps as a loaner program for evenings/weekends). My experience with the kids with the in-class computers of any type is that they spend inordinate time surfing the web for fluff – games, sports, shoes, clothes, music, gossip.

  10. I work for a school that has one cart of 28 iPods. I have used the iPods with 3 to 4 year old preschool students and kindergarten students to practice and reinforce skills that they are learning in the classroom. So far we have used apps to practice forming letters, identifying coins, selecting items from a group that don’t belong, are the same, and that rhyme. Next week we will try out some shape drawing apps.

    When we use the iPods students have a strict set of rules that they need to follow including keeping the iPod flat on the desk or table and only touching what they are told to touch. We have had no problems with chewing, throwing, or other damage to the iPods, but the students are closely supervised when they use them usually by two sometimes three adults for no more than 25 students.

    One of the biggest benefits I have seen with their use is the student on task engagement. It has been 100 percent. No student has goofed off or done things they should not when the iPods have been used. They love using the apps even to do the learning activities. Another benefit is the immediate feedback and coaching the apps provide on the skills. For example, with letter formation if they don’t do it correctly they have to do it again. The students don’t have to wait for the teacher to correct them so they don’t develop bad habits. Using the iPods also frees up the teacher to focus on students who may be struggling.

    I think they are a great tool to include with instruction as long as their use is well thought out and supports your instructional goals. We don’t use them just because we can.

  11. Chartermom says:

    I agree that kids today live in a world of ubiquitous technology but they also live in real world where they need to know how real things work. They also live in a world where special effects and photoshopping are used so extensively and so seamlessly that it is very possible to lose any conception of not only what isn’t real but what isn’t even physically possible.

    Sean Mays’ comments reminded me of what my younger son did almost every day in preschool. He and his friends would spend hours setting up a simple Hot Wheels track and running the cars down it. They were constantly trying new variations — higher/lower, hills in the middle, steeper/less steep, different cars, starting them at different points, seeing how fast they went, how soon they crashed, how far they could jump, etc. They were having great fun but the teacher also pointed out how much they were learning about how physics operates in the real world. They may not be able to articulate those concepts even today as high schoolers but they know them.

    I’m sure iPad’s have some value, but I do question whether they are the best use of the education dollar.

  12. My son started playing with my iPad when he was 2 1/2. He is now 3 1/2. He has his own apps, mostly games some educational. He had no interest in eating it. My biggest worry was him dropping it. It is a tool and could be used to supplement classroom teaching. That would require planning and teacher experience using an iPad. It appears fhat none of that kind of thought went into this program, more of we build good will but lets throw something at the kids and see if it will stick.

  13. My children have destroyed 5 DVD players, 2 digital cameras, a laptop, and a cell phone between the 3 of them. And the laptop and one of the digital cameras was by a child who was 7 at the time.

    No way in h*** would I deliberately give them an iPad. They are not getting their destructive hands on any more technology until they’re teenagers if I can help it…

  14. My cat uses an iPad. Seriously. There are apps for cats. She loves it.

    It’s not about whether preschoolers CAN use them, it’s about whether the iPads enhance instruction enough to warrant buying them for an entire grade level. I say no, not at that level.