Today’s children, often referred to as ‘digital natives’ or ‘Gen Z’ are growing immersed in a digital world. Technology is having a direct and dramatic impact on young children’s childhood and is shaping the ways in which they learn and develop. We are at an interesting juncture in terms of childhood: we now know more than ever about how brain architecture is built because of advances in neuroscience and at the same time we are witnessing exponential growth in the availability of digital and interactive technologies marketed towards young children. We now have a significant corpus of neuroscientific research that informs us about the essential building blocks required for optimal brain development. However, we are yet to map this research to digitalised childhoods. [Read more…]
Dangerous Decibels: Are Headphones Harming Children’s Hearing?
Getting kids to listen is difficult at the best of times.
We often joke that our children’s hearing may have been harmed because of all of the loud music that they listen to. But there may be some truth in this claim.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a serious and permanent condition. It’s associated with incorrect and/or excessive headphone use, or exposure to loud music. And we need to be concerned about young children’s exposure to loud noise, given that many children now regularly use headphones (and often at excessive levels).
The World Health Organisation (WHO)* estimates that 1.1 billion people worldwide could be affected by noise-induced hearing loss because of unsafe use of personal music devices including mp3 players and smartphones and exposure to noisy entertainment venues.
How do our ears work?
Ears convert the vibrations of sound waves into signals that our brains interpret as sounds. If ears are exposed to excessive sound pressure, it can damage the hair cells in the ears that hamper their ability to transmit sound to the brain. Consequently, this can result in noise-induced hearing loss, which is permanent.
What are the symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss?
Symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss include:
- muffled or distorted sound
- feelings of pressure in the ear
- difficulties understanding speech
- ringing sounds in the ear in silence (tinnitus).
Noise-induced hearing loss can occur as a result of exposure to one loud noise. However, it typically occurs because of repeated exposure to loud sounds over time. And this is why we need to be concerned about children’s use of headphones. They do often blast them to their highest volume and often on a regular basis. This could be potentially having harmful consequences on their hearing.
Anecdotally, audiologists confirm that they’re treating more and more young children and adolescents for tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and noise-induced hearing loss. The WHO is worried enough that they’ve produced guidelines for safe listening practices and many governments around the world are undertaking awareness campaigns as it’s recognised as a growing health concern.
Consistent use of headphones above 75dB can cause permanent hearing loss. What’s most concerning is that most commercial mp3 players can reach more than 130dB (contingent upon the model of mp3 player and brand of headphones used).
A child’s duration and exposure are important to consider.
Like many aspects of children’s ‘digital health’ we may not yet have a comprehensive picture from the research at this point in time (raising my hand here as a researcher to acknowledge that we’re slow in keeping up with the advances in technology), but we don’t want to wait until it’s too late and have compromised children’s hearing in the process. Again, this is why precautionary measures are essential when it comes to young children using headphones.
Tips for healthy hearing
- Volume control– Show children how to adjust the volume on their headphones (ideally it would be below 75dB). Whilst it’s difficult to specify a precise decibel level on most commercially-available headphones, we can teach children about relatively appropriate sound levels. With some headphones and mp3 players we can use the settings to place a limit on the maximum decibel level on the device. Check with individual manufacturers as to how to do this.
- Monitor time– Try, where possible, to limit children’s time to less than 60 minutes/day with headphones.
- Use noise-cancelling headphones– Use ear-muff type headphones as these cancel some of the background noise, making it easier for children to listen to the music, without having competing background noise.
*World Health Organization. (2015). Make Listening Safe. World Health Organization.
Are you worried about your child’s use of headphones? Do you enforce rules regarding headphones?
I talk to parents throughout Australia about screen-time and how parents can help their children use technology in healthy and helpful ways (and also minimise any potential risks). If you’re interested in having me speak at your pre-school, school local council or community group, Click here to find out more.
Is Typing or Handwriting Better for Kids?
The keyboard versus the pen. Which is better for children’s learning?
As laptops and tablets become commonplace in schools many parents and teachers are left wondering if note-taking with paper and pencil will become an obsolete skill.
Do young children still need to learn how to handwrite?
As adults we’re spending less and less time scribing things on paper and more and more time typing and using screens and gadgets to record our ideas. In fact a 2012 study showed that the average time since an adult last scribbled was 41 days.
So whilst we might be doing less typing as adults, it’s still a really essential skill for our digital kids to acquire. I’m here to say we certainly shouldn’t be packing away pencils and rushing to pull out keyboards. Handwriting is still an essential skill in the 21st Century. Kids still need to learn to handwrite.
Is handwriting really different to typing?
The two activities require different cognitive skills.
When we type, we simply tap a key. It’s relatively the same cognitive process each time. The movement is the same, regardless of the letter. It’s a skill that’s often acquired fast and easily.
By contrast, handwriting is a much more complex task. It takes years to master (if we think about all the fine motor skills little ones have to develop before they even grip a pencil). It requires muscle memories to recall letter formations. Unique neural circuits are automatically activated when we handwrite. It mentally stimulates the brain.
What impact does typing have on children’s learning? Do they recall more or less if they handwrite?
A 2012 study showed that children who hadn’t yet learned to read or write demonstrated increased activity in three areas of the brain (the same three areas which are activated in adults when reading and writing) when they attempted to handwrite letters on a blank piece of paper. In contrast, those children in the study who traced letters or shapes with dotted outlines, or those who typed the letter on the computer showed no such effect. Their activation was significantly weaker.
Do children learn better when handwriting or typing?
Preliminary research in the area suggests that handwriting may be better than typing for students’ recall of information. The video below outlines the benefits of handwriting.
However, the research in this area is not clear at this stage.
The research confirms that handwriting is the superior option (especially for older children in secondary school) as it results in better retention of information.
The research tells us that when children type they:
// Recall fewer details long-term. Studies have shown that students recall more information from handwritten notes after one week, than they do with typed notes. It appears that handwriting stimulates more memory cues as you form a context for the writing.
// Take copious notes and record verbatim. This mindless transcription means that they’re not consciously absorbing what they’re writing. Students are much more selective about what they write when they handwrite notes.
// It takes them a lot less time to record their information (if they’re a speedy typist) as compared to handwriting. So the extra time required to hand-write the information may help with their memory consolidation and subsequent recall. Handwriting also creates unique motor memories in the brain.
// Are more likely to get distracted by other tasks that you can do on a computer or tablet.
But this may not be the case with younger children
It’s important to note that the available studies at this stage have looked at secondary and college students. This means that the findings may not be transferable to younger children. For example, younger students whose fine motor skills are emerging, or for children with additional learning needs, typing may free up some of their cognitive resources that they’d otherwise dedicate to handwriting.
This is called “cognitive automaticity”. So typing may in fact allow them to focus on the content of what they’re writing, as opposed to focusing exclusively on forming letters and fine motor skills.
So before we toss out paper and pencils, we need to still foster children’s handwriting skills, even in this digital age. Whilst we don’t yet have a definitive answer from the research when it comes to young children and the handwriting vs typing debate, we know that handwriting requires different neurological resources and it’s probably still an important skill.
Do you prefer to handwrite or type? What do your kids prefer?
Recent news headlines have many parents of young children in a state of panic.
Some popular news outlets claimed that there was “scientific evidence” that indicated that touchscreen devices were detrimental for young children’s development.
The headlines stated that there was science to support the claim that, “iPads and Smartphones May Damage Toddler Brains”. The headline has now been adjusted to read “Tablets and Smartphones May Affect Social and Emotional Development, Scientists Speculate” (which is a very different tone to the earlier headline).
But nonetheless the initial headlines caused a flurry on concern amongst parents and educators who are using or considering the use of touchscreen devices with young children.
The problem was that the “research” that the news outlets referred to was not actually “research”. It was a commentary published in the Pediatrics journal. The commentary was based on the researchers from Boston University School of Medicine raising issues about the possible impact of available interactive media on young children’s learning and behaviour. In particular, they raised concerns about the educational potential of touchscreen devices.
The authors did not suggest that they had evidence that proved that iPads damage toddler’s brains. In fact, the words “brain damage” were not even used by the authors of the paper.
It appears that some of the claims in a press release regarding the commentary were inflated by some media outlets (who later changed their headlines).
So what did the commentary actually say?
I actually think that the commentary raises some important issues that we need to think about very carefully, as parents and educators when it comes to young children and touchscreens.
Given that mobile devices are everywhere and that children are using them at increasingly younger ages, it’s critical that we make careful decisions about how we use them with young children. We also need to be really mindful about how we use technology around children.
It doesn’t mean that we need to ban or completely avoid using touchscreens with or around children. Nor do we need to fear them.
But I do believe that we need to pause and think about how we use our gadgets with children (and also around children because they’ll inherit our digital habits).
“Mobile devices are everywhere and children are using them more frequently at young ages,” Jenny Radesky, one of the Pediatrics authors from Boston University’s Developmental-Behavior Pediatrics, said in a statement. “The impact these mobile devices are having on the development and behavior of children is still relatively unknown.”
In the commentary the authors questioned whether touchscreen device use during the formative years, adversely impacted on young children’s social emotional and problem-solving skills. They proposed that device use displaced time otherwise spent engaged in exploration, unstructured play and real face-to-face interaction with peers. “These devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” stated Radesky.
And I totally agree. Technology does have a displacement effect. When children are using a screen there’s an opportunity cost. They’re not doing something else. It might mean that they’re not hanging from a tree and developing physical strength, or perhaps they’re not engaged in imaginative play with a sibling and developing language and social skills. Perhaps their touchscreen time is not allowing them time to draw, crumple and cut (all of which are important fine motor skills).
Children need to be physically active (to develop essential sensorimotor skills that assist with subsequent learning).
Children need real, serve-and-return interactions with people (to develop language, social and emotional skills).
Excessive or inappropriate use of screens can interfere with these essential processes.
So what do we actually know about touchscreens and young children?
Like thex Pediatrics authors suggest, I think it’s vital that we think about the best ways to use touchscreens with children. We need to pause and think about their possible impact on children’s learning, behaviour and development.
We can’t naively assume that these devices are not impacting on children’s learning and development, just because they’ve been rapidly adopted and are widespread. But why do we need to jump to the premature conclusion that they’re harmful (even when we don’t yet have the evidence to prove this)?
Whilst we don’t yet have a substantial body of longitudinal or empirical evidence to “prove” that they’re adversely impacting children’s learning and development, it’s hard to refute the claim that they’re shaping the way that young children learn and develop.
Children’s use of and relationship to technology is shaping their brain architecture (in both positive and negative ways).
Teachers, parents and carers and medical professionals are noting the changes.
And some of the changes are positive, and some are negative.
It’s imperative that we find healthy and helpful ways to leverage touchscreen technologies with young children. These devices are here to stay. But we must also mitigate some of their potential harmful effects.
The commentary also acknowledged that the existing research corpus shows that children under 30 months of age do not learn as well form TV and video as they do from human interaction, we don’t yet know if this is the case for more interactive forms of technology, like tablets and smartphones.
Whilst we have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the impact on television and videos (passive technology) on young children’s development and learning, the same cannot be said about touchscreen devices (interactive technology). The rapid rate of adoption of touchscreens and the exponential changes in technology means that researchers have been unable to keep pace.
And so we’re conducting a bit of a “living experiment.”
And this is why it’s so important that we take a careful and considered approach to using touchscreen devices with young children. We need to find a balanced approach.
Young children still need plenty of off-screen experiences. They need to interact, play, climb, explore, build, construct and move.
What technology habits are we fostering with young children?
One of the chief concerns raised by the authors of the commentary regards the use of touchscreens as “digital pacifiers”. When we hand over tablets and smartphones to children to constantly help alleviate boredom (all the time), or to calm an upset child, then I agree that it’ highly likely that technology’s impacting their social-emotional development. When we constantly use screens to help children self-regulate we’re setting up habits that will last a lifetime. And these may not necessarily be healthy habits.
But when used appropriately and intentionally touchscreens can support young children’s learning and development. There’s emerging evidence to support this claim (and I’m thrilled to have been able to conduct some of my own research in this area).
Touchscreens, like all technology, are just a tool. They’re neither good nor bad. It really depends on how they’re used.
This is why we have to be so careful about how we use touchscreens with children.
Touchscreens needs to add value to justify their use with young children. They shouldn’t be pacifiers (all the time). They shouldn’t be used as digital worksheets (especially for our youngest children).
Touchscreens need to enable young children do new things, or old things in better ways. Otherwise, the screen-free, hands-on experience may be the better alternative.
As parents and educators we must pause and think carefully about how and why we’re using technology with (or around) young children. It’s why we must use technology in very explicit and intentional ways. It’s also why we need to adopt a balanced approach to using technology. When sparingly and in conjunction with other experiences, it’s unlikely that technology will have an adverse impact on young children. It really is all about balance.
I’d love to know in the comments below, what you see as the positive outcomes of young children using touchscreens? Let’s shift the focus from the negative to the positive.
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As your toddler’s tiny fingers swipe, tap and pinch a smartphone or tablet screen, you simultaneously fill with pride and fear. This is the modern parents’ dilemma.
On one hand you are filled with pride because want your child to be a proficient technology user. There is no doubt that they will inherit a digital world.
But on the other hand fear overwhelms you because you worry about the possible negative effects apps on their development.
Are apps simply digital baby-sitters? Can toddlers really learn from apps?
The answer to both of these questions is YES!
Yes, iPads and iPhones can be used as the digital baby-sitter*. But only if you select the wrong types of apps for toddlers. Toddlers (and young children) can actually learn from apps**.
[*I raise my hand here. Yes, as a mum and a children’s technology researcher I DO use the iPad as a digital baby-sitter every now and then. Do I do it all of the time? No, but sometimes, there are meals to prepare and work calls to be taken, without a three year old interrupting, and the iPad is my saviour.]
However, when I do hand over my iPad to my son, I am not riddled with techno-guilt. Absolutely none. Nada. Not a bit.
Why? I know that if I select the best apps for him that he can actually learn with the device. No. More. Parental. Guilt. (Well, not related to technology anyway.)
Why? Because initial research** is showing that young children, possibly even toddlers, can actually learn from touch devices like smartphones and tablets. Again, you have to select the best types of apps for young children. The design of the app is absolutely vital.
And this presents a real problem for today’s parents. At present there are over 800 000 different apps in the iTunes App Store alone. And the quality varies immensely. Busy parents and teachers do not have the time to sift through the apps to find the best apps for toddlers.
When it comes to apps for toddlers there are the good, the bad and the terrible. There is the full gamut. Trust me I have seen them all. I am just about to release an eBook titled ‘Appy Kids: A List of Recommended Apps for 2-5 Year Olds’. So I have road-tested a lot of apps.
Sadly, I have seen far too many drill-and-practice apps in the iTunes App Store designed for toddlers. These types of apps are NOT what toddlers need for optimal learning and development. I say this based on what the latest neuro- and developmental psychology sciences tell us in terms of what developing brains need.
The App Store is saturated with these rote learning apps for toddlers. Rote learn your colours. Trace letters. Count objects. There is plenty of time later on for formal academic learning.
Toddlers do NOT need digital worksheets. They do not need apps that promote the rote memorisation of skills and concepts.
Sure, your toddler’s proficiency with these rote-learning, drill-and-practice apps might impress Grandma or your friends. Let’s be honest, who isn’t impressed by a three year old who can trace letters or count a group of objects? It’s a really overt sign that they are learning. I hate to say it, but the chances are that your toddler may have also learnt these same skills from other screen-free experiences.
This early rote learning and memorisation of skills doesn’t necessarily correlate to later academic learning. And it isn’t necessarily what developing brains need for optimal, long-term development.
Am I saying that these drill-and-practice, rote learning apps are bad for toddlers? Not necessarily. They are just not ideal apps for toddlers. Using these types of apps every now and then is fine. It certainly isn’t going to have an adverse effect on your toddler. But it is not the best use of the technology.
Am I saying that we should avoid these types of apps? Again, not necessarily. We just need to use them sparingly. They shouldn’t be the only type of app that your toddler uses on a touch device.
Formal, rote learning is not what developing brains need early on in life.
I’ve spent hours reviewing and evaluating the best apps and I’ve compiled them in an eBook to save parents time searching the App Store looking for the right apps.
So What Are the Best Types of Apps for Toddlers?
I am going to wear three heats to answer this question: (i) my technology researcher hat, (ii) my brain researcher hat and (iii) my mum hat to provide you with a comprehensive, yet practical, explanation about what we know about the best apps for toddlers.
1. Apps That Promote Language Development-
Developing brains need language exposure. They need to hear and use language. And lots of language. It is essential that we expose young children (especially up to 3 years of age) to as much language as possible for optimal brain development.
Some good app examples-
Apps by Duck Duck Moose expose toddlers to popular nursery rhymes and songs (Old McDonald and Wheels on the Bus). Developing brains hanker repetition, so these apps are ideal for toddlers to hear and sing a range of popular songs and nursery rhymes. Over. And. Over. And Over. Again.
2. Apps That Encourage Toddlers to Create (not Just Consume) Content-
The best apps for toddlers require them to be actively involved (not passively consuming information on the iPad).
Some good app examples-
3. Apps That Encourage Interaction-
Today’s toddlers expect screens to be interactive. Has your toddler tried to swipe the TV or pinch magazine pages? Look for apps that encourage toddlers to interact with the screen purposefully (more than just randomly tapping on the right answer on the screen). This ensures that they are thinking when using the device (this is the essential ingredient that makes touch devices potentially more helpful for toddlers than other types of technology, such as TVs, as these are much more passive types of technology).
Some good app examples-
Touch devices should not replace hands-on time with real toys and materials. Toddlers still need to squash mud and squish paint between their chubby fingers. A painting app is no substitute for real paint. Toddlers still need to find joy in hiding in cardboard boxes.
Touch devices should not replace real face-time. Toddlers still need lots of face-to-face interaction with adults and children. The neuroscientists call this ‘serve-and-return’ interactions and it is essential for optimal brain development.
Touch devices should not replace physical play. Toddlers still need lots of time to roll, crawl, climb, jump, twist, hop and skip. Physical movement is essential for brain development too and technology should not displace this time.
Touch devices, in fact any type of technology, can detract from these essential brain building blocks. But technology can also enhance these brain essentials. It all depends on how children use the technology. And that is why your job as a parent or educator is absolutely vital.
Tell me in the comments below, what is your toddler’s favourite app? How does your toddler benefit from using apps?
If you’re interested in more apps for 2-5 year olds, check out my eBook Appy Kids: The Best Apps for 2-5 Year Olds. It’s available in the iBook Store as an iBook.
**Neumann, M. M. (2014). An examination of touch screen tablets and emergent literacy in Australian pre-school children. Australian Journal of Education.
*Kirkorian, H. L. & Pempek, T. A. (2013). Toddlers and Touch Screens: Potential for Early Learning? Zero to Three March 2013.
As I flicked through the latest toy catalogue today I was overwhelmed with just how many techno-toys and battery-operated devices and gadgets are now available for babies and toddlers.
Yep, we now have teddy bears with mobile phones attached to their paws and pretend tablet devices for babies. Tablets for babies…whaaaaat?
Now don’t get me wrong, my children do have techno-toys. We’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by a talking teddy bear and thought we had a burglar in the house, haven’t you? So I’m not suggesting that techno-toys are ‘bad’. Not for one minute. They definitely have their place. But do we need to introduce babies and very young toddlers to these devices?
This latest toy catalogue has got me thinking.
Have we crossed the line? Are we introducing technology too early? Are we ‘technologising’ all aspects of childhood?
Or is this simply a reflection of our techno-obsessed society? It’s natural that children want digital replicas of our adult devices. Hey, it used to be the toy replica of the lawn mower, or the plastic high heels. So perhaps this just a natural progression.
But there are increasing, and in my opinion, worrying numbers of gadgets and devices marketed towards parents of babies and toddlers. Any what’s even more alarming for me as a children’s brain and technology researcher are the misleading marketing claims. In many instances, the marketing materials suggest that the early introduction of these techno-toys and gadgets is advantageous for little ones.
Make your child smarter. Increase language skills. Teach your baby old how to recognize letters, shapes and colours.
The claims go on and on and but are often not substantiated by research. Marketing hype often persuades parents to buy, buy, buy.
As you know, I’m an advocate for young children using technology.. So I’m certainly not a Luddite or anti-technology, in any way. Absolutely not the case at all.
I firmly believe (and have the research evidence to substantiate these claims) that young children can and do benefit from technology. But there’s a caveat: the technology has to be used in developmentally-appropriate ways.
So I question whether babies and toddlers really benefit from techno-toys and gadgets. Is this really developmentally-appropriate?
Do little ones really need a teddy bear that holds a mobile phone?
I just don’t think so. The latest neuroscience tells us that babies and toddlers need simple things for optimal brain development. The research is calling it ‘ancestral parenting’ which is basically how our grandparents raised our parents. It’s the basic things that developing brains need (not flashing devices that ping, beep and flash).
Developing brains need:
- Develop attachments to their carer (goo-ing and gah-ing with mum or dad or grandparents: not pre-programmed voices that respond to touch);
- Physical movement (crawling and climbing: not a bouncer that has a tablet attachment dangling over the baby’s face);
- Serve-and-return interactions with adults (yes, even ‘parentese’, that high-pitched way we often talk to babies is beneficial: not a device that that parrots words to a baby)
- Sleep (I don’t need to tell parents how vital this is…for everyone)
- Good nutrition (this is a whole new topic on its own)
So I’m not sure how techno-toys and gadgets fit into this picture… especially for babies and toddlers.
Given that little ones are awake for such a limited number of hours each day, I think that we really need to optimise this time. Giving them battery-operated devices, all the time, isn’t the best use of their wakeful hours. (Now don’t go and throw out all of your battery-operated, techno-toys for your baby or toddler- that’s not what I’m suggesting. I have them and use them every now and then.)
Instead, I’m proposing that we don’t need to feel obliged to buy these devices for our little ones. Ignore the marketing pressure and hype. You’re not increasing their IQ when you give them a techno-toy. You’re not increasing the chance that they’ll get into Harvard if they have early access to a tablet device before they can independently sit up.
Instead, the best toys that you can give your baby or toddler are your time, wooden blocks and space to explore and move.
A simple rule when it comes to picking toys for little ones (even slightly older children), is that it should be 90% child and 10% toy. With a lot of techno-toys it’s 90% toy and 10% child. The toys do a lot of the thinking and exploring for the child. This isn’t what babies and toddlers need.
So save yourself some money. Don’t feel obliged to buy the newest gadget or techno-toy from the catalogues that claims it will help your baby or toddler learn. Sit them on your lap, or give them a set of blocks and know that this is exactly what they need.
I’d love to know in the comments below, what toys does/did your baby or toddler like? Do you feel pressured to buy techno-toys?
First, I was shocked to read that there are now specific occupational therapy programs to help remediate young children’s poor fine motor skills because of their technology addiction. These programs have been designed to develop hand strength to allow today’s digital learners to be able to write for longer periods of time to complete hand-written tests, such as the NAPLAN test (a standardised pencil-and-paper test for non-Australian readers). This tells me that we have far too many children spending excessive amounts of time with screens!
Second, during a recent school visit, I realised that there is a common denominator that I hear in staffroom chat (no, it is not counting down to school holidays and no, it is not teachers complaining about disobedient children). I frequently hear teachers bemoan the fact that today’s children lack fine motor skills. And technology is usually blamed for the demise in these skills.
To some extent, I agree. Excessive technology use can certainly have a detrimental effect on children’s fine motor skills. Why? Technology use has a displacement effect– when children are using gadgets they are NOT engaged in other activities, which may have developed their fine motor skills. However, appropriate amounts of technology are unlikely to cause the demise in these skills.
There is no denying that children today are not spending the same amount of time playing with Lego, using scissors, making objects with playdough, as they previous generations did. This would certainly impact their fine motor skill development. Instead, today’s digital children use a greater number of digital devices, at earlier ages and for significant amounts of time (children aged 0-8 years spend an average of just over 3 hours with media every day). This is certainly having a displacement effect on their fine motor skills.
Should We Ban Technology and Gadgets?
So should we ban technology and hope that this has a corresponding effect on children’s fine motor skills? No, this is not a realistic solution. These technologies are here to stay and we need to teach children how to use them in appropriate ways. Banning them will not work.
Instead, I propose that we can do something radical. I suggest that we can actually leverage digital technologies and use them in ways that can actually enhance children’s fine motor skills. Yes, crazy I know.
Touch devices can provide unique opportunities to develop children’s fine motor skills. I am NOT proposing that touch devices REPLACE hands-on experiences. Digital children STILL NEED to touch and explore real life objects. They still need to play with REAL Lego, playdough, use scissors and manipulate small objects (that are painful for parents to tread on). It is all about balance.
Below are 5 apps that I suggest that can be used to develop young children’s fine motor skills:
1. Bugs and Buttons– with more than 18 games for children aged 3-5 years, this app is both educational and entertaining. Children are required to pinch, swipe and drag objects on the screen to count, classify and sort various bugs.
2. Little Digits-this app develops basic number concepts for children aged 3-6 years. Children are required to place a certain number of fingers on the screen simultaneously, to represent given numbers or answers to algorithms. This is a great app to play with a sibling or parent and not only develops maths concepts but also some fine motor skills at the same time.
3. Dexteria- Fine Motor Skill Development- This app is highly regarded amongst occupational therapists and teachers to develop fine motor skills using a touch device. This app develops finger dexterity, hand strength and finger control: all essential fine motor skills. It is recommended that this app be used for short periods of time. A feature of this app is that teachers and parents can track student performance.
4. Dexteria Jr- Fine Motor Skill Development for Toddlers & Preschoolers- This app is also designed to develop young children’s handwriting skills by explicitly teaching pre-writing skills such as left-to-right orientation, pincer grip (what you need to hold a real pencil). Suitable for children aged 2-6 years.
5. Chalk Walk- This app, designed by an experienced Kindergarten teacher, is suitable for children aged 3-6 years. It develops essential pre-writing skills such as hand positioning, tracing and left to write orientation. A unique benefit of this app is that children can watch video re-plays of their movements.
Tell me, what apps have you used to develop fine motor skills in young children? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.
Language Gap by 18 Months
Differences in children’s language skills emerge by the time a child is 18 months and these differences continue and widen over time. There are notable differences between children aged 18 months in terms of the size of their vocabulary. Research has shown that those children born into families with high education and income have significantly larger vocabularies than those children born into families with low education and income levels. Therefore, it is critical that we build children’s language skills form the day they are born.
Research suggests that there is a ‘critical’ or ‘sensitive’ period for children to easily acquire language: the first 3 to 4 years are vital. Typically, a child’s capacity to learn a language peaks between 6 and 9 months of age, when they are understanding language and just beginning to babble. During the first four years, children can easily acquire language if they are exposed to the right types of experiences. We are not talking here about using Baby DVDs and flashcards to teach your child to read, as both of these pursuits have been shown to be fruitless. Instead, parents can do simple things.
So what can parents do?
The good news is that it is NOT difficult to build your child’s language. You don’t need special programs, DVDs or flashcards. You need a small amount of time each day, in fact no more than 15 minutes is really required. Here are some simple ideas:
- Babies and toddlers under 2 years of age need ‘face time’ and limited use of passive ‘screen time’ (i.e. TV and DVDs). In the first year if life in particular, it is critical that we limit the amount of passive screen time young children we expose to children. Babies need real interactions with adults where they can observe facial expressions, watch how sounds are formed and engage in serve and return interactions (remember that they can copy someone poking out their tongue when they are only a few hours old). If you use screens with young children, try to use interactive activities such as apps that encourage the use of language and expose children to different words and vocabulary (future blog post with suggestions to come).
- Sing, talk, read and play with your child everyday. Research suggests that a focused 15 minutes per day is enough explicit time to build your child’s language skills. If you are after some ideas for songs and nursery rhymes check out http://ele.fredrogerscenter.org where you can search for songs and rhymes.
- Right from the start, talk to your baby about what you are doing. For example, explain that you are changing their nappy, or talk about what you can see when you are in the car. It really doesn’t matter what you are saying, so long as they are hearing words.
- Use parentese- this is the high-pitched, song-pitched and slow-paced way we often talk to babies. Research has shown that this communication is appealing to babies and helps them to learn how language works.
- Ask children questions and talk to them when performing simple, daily tasks like setting the dinner table or doing the groceries, or discuss what is happening on TV when you are watching it together.
- Extend children’s language. If they are saying two word utterances like “more milk”, model how to say 4 word phrases such as, ”More milk please Mumma.” Whatever language skills your child is demonstrating, try to model the next level.
Thanks to significant technological advancements, interactive children’s TV is now real. In 2012 Microsoft, in conjunction with Sesame Street released ‘Kinect Sesame Street TV’. Using the Kinect, the motion- and voice-sensing controller, young children can now interact with TV characters. For example Elmo will catch a talking ball if you throw it to him, or you can pick carrots from Elmo’s garden, or the Count will praise you for standing still or the Count will praise you for standing still.
This is a significant evolution in children’s TV. Child development experts have long promoted the idea that children require active involvement and movement to learn. And that is exactly what young children can do when they participate in interactive TV.
In addition, interactive TV provides children with instant feedback. They know instantaneously if they are right or wrong. For example, if they throw Grover eight coconuts instead of 10 Grover will let them know.
Children will develop authentic understandings of concepts. For example, if they are developing an understanding of numbers the children are actively involved in demonstrating this knowledge, rather than watching objects being counted. In one task, Grover slips over and drops his coconuts. Children are then required to throw six coconuts back to Grover. In this instance, children develop a real understanding of ‘6’, as opposed to just watching Grover count six coconuts (which children can also elect to do if they do not want to actively participate). Children’s physical actions are linked to a number and in doing so, children develop real understandings of concepts.
Children are also encouraged to move, which is critical for early learning. Using Kinect Sesame Street TV, children are asked to jump, skip, wave, clap, stand, throw and point. This is vastly different to passive TV where children assume a very inactive role.
With Kinect Sesame Street TV children actually step inside the TV screen, via an on-screen mirror. Given that children aged 3 to 5 years are very egocentric, Kinect Sesame Street TV developers have catered for this extremely well. Children love seeing themselves on a TV screen and it allows them to have a real sense of interactivity.
Designed for children aged 3 and up, the Kinect Sesame Street TV is now available worldwide. The game is available on disc or as a download via X-Box Live. Users can purchase eight 30-minute episodes for $AUD38 or individual episodes for $US5. Older children who may not be interested in Sesame Street content, may find the Kinect Nat Geo TV show more appealing. Based on National Geographic, children look for animal prints in the snow, pat animals and take photos of animals they see in the wild. It is also priced at $AUD38.
Please note that this is NOT an endorsed or sponsored blog post. The views expressed here are that of the author, Dr Kristy Goodwin.
TV is still the most popular form of media that young children consume despite the advent of new technologies like the iPad and a range of techno-toys. However, TV has long been criticised for having a negative impact on children’s learning and development. Parents will be pleased (and relieved) to know that there is increasing research that well-designed, age-appropriate and educational TV can actually have be beneficial to children aged over two-years of age. Appropriate content can actually support children’s cognitive skills. The quality between children’s TV varies greatly. So how can time-poor parents source educational TV?
Appropriate TV for Babies-
Contrary to the marketing claims on Baby DVDs, these products will NOT make your baby smarter. In fact, some research has shown that Baby DVDs can actually have the adverse effect and impede children’s language and motor development, if used excessively. Babies will not benefit from TV, despite claims suggesting otherwise (see this TIME article for details). Babies benefit more from ‘face-time’ as opposed to ‘screen-time’. If parents elect to use TV with their baby they should look for TV shows that use simple graphics and lots of language. They should also avoid the use of ‘narratives’ as babies are too young to understand story lines. TV viewing should be used very sparingly at this age.
Appropriate TV for Toddlers-
Parents of toddlers know that young children need to MOVE. Source TV programs that encourage singing, clapping, dancing and general interaction. (See our blog post next week on ‘Interactive TV’). From around the age of 18-22 months, young children start to understand narratives (story structures) so start to introduce TV shows (and DVDs) that contain a plot. Encourage your child to recall the story after they have viewed the show. This will not only enhance their language development but will also improve their thinking skills. Playschool– based on 45 years of research, this show offers stories, music and hands-on activities. Sesame Street– this highly-researched TV program started in 1969 and uses recognisable puppets to teach themes. In the Night Garden– this show has been designed to assist young children ‘unwind’ and relax before bed.*see Final Tips.
Appropriate TV for Preschoolers-
This is an ideal age to use TV to consolidate preschoolers’ understanding of some more formal learning concepts such as numbers, letters and shape names. Look for TV programs that include lots of language and repetition. Sesame Street– see above. Dora the Explorer– repetition and simple graphics are the cornerstones of this program. CBeebies shows such as ‘Little Human Planet’– this show follows children from around the world, providing young children with access to new information and ideas that may not be possible without TV. Charlie & Lola– this show teaches children about relationships, social and life skills. It also teaches logic and problem-solving skills which are essential ‘Executive Function’ skills. Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood– this show teaches social responsibility, respect and self-esteem.
Appropriate TV for 5-8 year olds-
- TV SHOULD NOT replace hands-on experiences. Children still need lots of time to play, explore and interact with real-life objects and people.
- Talk with your child whilst they are watching (if possible) and/or after they have watched a TV show. Co-viewing promotes learning.
- Make connections between the TV show and real life examples. For example you might say, “That is like the ball that Elmo was chasing.”
- Avoid shows that contain violent content. You may be surprised at the content of many children’s TV cartoons that are screened before school. Avoid rapid-fire (fast-paced) TV viewing before school (like ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ and ‘Power Rangers’). This sets the brain up for this rapid-fire input that they are unlikely to receive at school and can result in disengagement.
- Where possible avoid TV 90 minutes before children go to bed, or at least rapid-fire, fast-paced TV. Current research suggests that TV viewing (in fact any form of media) before bed delays the onset of sleep. Over time, this can cause significant sleep deficits and sleep is vital for optimal brain development.
TV is not going to be un-invented. Instead of banning it we need to make informed-choices about how we can best use it. Parents need up-to-date information about what TV shows are best for their children.