Touchscreen toddlers

Interactive screen time can be educational for toddlers, writes Lisa Guernsey in Slate.  But . . .

Seventy-two percent of iTunes’ top-selling “education” apps are designed for preschoolers and elementary school children, according to a recent report.  Yet we don’t have much research on interactive apps for preschoolers.

A 2010 Georgetown study found children 30 to 36 months old were better at remembering where puppets were hiding if they had to touch a space bar to spot the puppets (or saw a live puppet show), compared to toddlers who watched a video of the puppet show.

In earlier studies, slightly younger children—24 months—struggled with these “seek and find” tasks after watching non-interactive video, unless they had a guide on-screen, a person or character, whom they felt compelled to respond to or communicate with. Even easier tasks, such as pointing to an object introduced a few minutes before, are more difficult for very young children after watching video compared with being taught face-to-face. It is this “video deficit,” which has cropped up in numerous other studies with infants and toddlers, that partially informed the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation against screen time among children younger than 2. (The AAP has other concerns, too, such as whether parents are replacing human-to-human connections with screen time.)

The pediatricians were focused on “passive” media, such as TV and videos, not interactive media, Guernsey notes.

Still, interactive may be more distracting than educational, Guernsey warns.

. . . the wow factor of the device and the presence of interactive “hotspots” on e-book pages may interfere with children’s ability to recall the story line of the book. This isn’t just a problem of electronics. Even traditional print-and-cardboard pop-up books can lead children at 2½ and 3 years old to learn less from the story than they would have otherwise, according to research at the University of Virginia conducted by Cynthia Chiong.

Most education apps now on the market dictate how children will play, Guernsey writes. Instead of exploring, kids must follow the program. However, new products are being introduced that encourage creativity, such as “DoodleCastItzaBitza and in-development computer programming software for preschoolers called Scratch Jr.

This is off-topic, but fun: