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:

State snatches home-made lunch, subs ‘nuggets’

A four-year-old’s home-packed lunch — turkey-and-cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice — was rejected by a state lunchbox inspector at a North Carolina elementary school, reports the Carolina Journal. Instead the preschooler ate three chicken nuggets from the school lunch – and nothing else. Mom was charged $1.25.

“What got me so mad is, number one, don’t tell my kid I’m not packing her lunch box properly,” the girl’s mother told CJ. “I pack her lunchbox according to what she eats. It always consists of a fruit. It never consists of a vegetable. She eats vegetables at home because I have to watch her because she doesn’t really care for vegetables.”

The state requires all lunches served in pre-K programs — including in-home day-care centers — to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, which call for one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables.

As it turns out, the lunch did meet USDA guidelines. “With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that’s the dairy,” said Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division (of child development). The lunch has to include a fruit or vegetable, but not both, she said. Potato chips don’t de-nutritionize an otherwise health lunch.

So North Carolina hires lunchbox inspectors — at what salary I wonder? — to snatch turkey sandwiches from little girls. (OK, they didn’t take her home-packed lunch away, but she didn’t eat it because she’d been told  it was “not healthy,” according to her mother.)

The school principal says parents aren’t charged for the school lunch. The pre-K program is funded by the state for children from low-income families or those with special needs.

It’s a “non-troversy,” argues The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. The inspector was investigating the school’s compliance with the subsidized lunch program, which requires providing additional food to kids who don’t bring a healthy lunch.

A second mother has complained, saying her daughter was told not to eat her home-packed lunch (salami and cheese on a wheat bun and apple juice).  Instead, she ate chicken nuggets, sweet potato and milk. A letter sent to parents warns they may be charged if they miss a food group and their child receives supplemental food.