Tag Archives: using computers

Is reading from an electronic screen just as good as reading from a paper book for my child?

Have you seen the You Tube videoAngry child thinking a book is a tablet app. in which a one-year-old child swipes the family iPad screen to make it work? Then she does the same to a magazine but it doesn’t “work.” She pinches the magazine and swipes back and forth across the picture but the image on the page does not change. In frustration she presses hard with her index finger, still with no results, and then just to be sure, she presses her finger against her leg to see if her finger is working.

Even at one-year-old, children are using electronic devices to learn. It’s a given. Does it help? Does it harm? Most of the research comparing electronic reading with old-fashioned book reading uses older children or college students as subjects, so it is difficult to apply the results precisely to younger children. Even so, here is what some of the research shows.

  • A book has a physical presence that an electronic device does not. The reader knows intuitively how big the book is, how hefty the book is, and how many pages have been turned or still need to be turned. A little child can figure this out quickly even before he can talk.
  • An ebook’s physical size, by contrast, is difficult to gauge. Is it 24 pages or 48 pages long? All ebooks books “weigh” the same. If you are at location 304-6 out of 4020, what does that mean? A bar across the bottom helps to show that 7% of the book has been read, but since you can’t “see” the turned pages, what does 7% mean? Most books for little children are not more than a couple dozen pages, but can children tell that? Do they have any sense that they are halfway done?
  • Old-fashioned books allow an intuitive navigation of the text. You read an idea on page 33 that reminds you of something you read a few pages earlier, on the top of a left-handed page.Indian girl on the floor reading a book. You can easily go back to just the left handed pages and reread the tops while holding your finger or a bookmark in the place where you left off. If a child suddenly notices a tiny frog on page ten, he can go back quickly to find out if there is a frog several pages back by flipping pages.
  • Ebooks also allow you to go back, but you need to check every page since there are no left and right-handed pages. Ebooks don’t allow for flipping back without skipping pages, or for scanning ahead. And if you forget how to go to the beginning of the book, or to chapter 2, you need to stop and go to the electronic device’s directions. Little children can’t do that. Ebooks do not allow for easy highlighting or jotting down notes, though this is not important for young children.
  • Research shows that reading from old-fashioned books leads to more serious and focused reading and more retention. Because of books’ easy navigability, older students approach handheld books seriously, and they absorb more.Boy on floor reading an ebook on his tablet.
  • Reading ebooks, on the other hand, is a more casual experience. Kids browse, scan through a document, look up keywords and tap a hyperlink before finishing a document. They often read information once without rereading it. Do little kids see this distinction between old-fashioned books and ebooks? It’s hard to say without more research.
  • Books with tiny type faces or books read in inappropriate lighting can strain eyesight and even lead to wearing glasses in young children.
  • Onscreen books’ typefaces can be increased in size, and most ebooks come with an internal light to create sharp contrast for easy reading—both real advantages. But the screens can also cause glare leading to headaches and blurred vision. Time in front of a screen needs to be monitored.

Nooks, iPads, smart phones, notepads and other electronic devices have been around for only a few years, so much more research will be done on them, including research on young children. Also, manufacturers are improving the technology to meet the shortcomings of past versions, so a newer version might be more kid-friendly than an older version. My Kindle purchased just four years ago seems like a reading machine compared to the latest Kindle Fire which downloads apps, plays games, lights up internally—and allows me to read books.

Unlike us, little children today are growing up using old-fashioned paper books and electronic screens at the same time, much like a bilingual child uses two languages interchangeably. An engaging storybook with a good story and excellent illustrations might be just as attractive as an online book if read and shared enthusiastically by Mom.

We shouldn’t fear the new technology but rather search out what it can do better than the old-fashioned book. Can it read a story aloud to a child? Can it allow the child to match rhymes with a swipe of his finger? Can it allow the child to email his voice reading a book to Grandma?

So should you encourage your child to read from a screen? Sometimes, especially if you are guiding him. Are onscreen materials just as good as old-fashioned books? Some are, some are not. Each offers real advantages.  –Mrs. K

How many minutes a day does your preschooler spend “untethered”?

New baby showing grandma how to use a cell phone.Let me review, for a minute, the e-history of many American children today while you think about your own child.  Is your child’s history similar?  Should it be?

Before children are one-year-old, they are playing in front of a TV and turning their heads occasionally when the music or bright colors attract them.  In their cribs they are listening to music meant to increase their intelligence.  When moms give them milk, they are aware their mothers are not looking at them but rather at a phone or tablet or television.

By two, children have developed favorite television programs, often cartoons.  Their daily schedules might be based on a TV schedule—up at a certain time to watch a certain TV show.  Or Mom might be using the TV as a babysitter while she gets ready for work or fixes dinner.  baby looking at an iPadWhen traveling, children might watch videos in the car on a portable DVD or tablet.  They might see Mom and Dad wearing ear plugs and demand the same.  They might cuddle with Mom and Dad in bed watching a movie.

By three, children are learning how to use some electronic devices.  They know how to turn on the TV and how to operate the remote.  They know how to turn on smart phones and tablets, tapping on their favorite icons to play games.  They can not only play games, but they can excel at them from practice.  They might own some electronic devices meant for preschoolers, and own a dozen or more game cartridges.  Their thumbs might have mastered the directional controller on the keypad.  One-third of three-year-olds have a TV in their bedrooms and watch it two hours a day.

child taking iPad out of toy chestBy four, children might own DVDs and video games designated for little kids.  They might have games for X-box and Wii, or use apps their parents have ordered for their children’s entertainment.  They probably know how to take pictures using a mobile phone and have Skyped Grandma in another city.  With quick dial features on some phones, they might initiate phone calls.

By five, children might have “saved” TV shows to watch at another time.  They might be mastering video games or visiting virtual worlds to play dress-up.  With an adult’s help, they might be learning to read, add, and subtract at online sites.  They might receive birthday cards online.

All this and they haven’t started kindergarten yet.

According to Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of the just published The Big Disconnect, all this electronic activity comes at a price, including

  • A growing number of children with less imaginative and less creative play.
  • Children preferring passive play such as watching TV or using electronic devices where there is a single goal set by the game’s designer.
  • Children with shorter attention spans.
  • Children with less patience learning new skills and with an inability to handle the discomfort of learning.
  • More impulsive children.
  • Children with more difficulty transitioning from one activity to another.
  • Fewer children making eye contact.
  • A growing number of children unable to “read” their own emotions or the emotions of others.
  • Children with less empathy.
  • Children showing signs of addiction.  Dopamine, a neurotransmitter which brings pleasure to the brain, is released when children use tech devices.

And what about reading?  According to The Big Disconnect,

  • Children are born without reading pathways in the brain.  From years of repeated practice, those pathways develop and deepen.  If technology is used instead of an adult and child reading aloud a book together, those circuits in the brain may not develop properly, and the child may not be able to reflect deeply on what is read.  The same thing happens when audio books read aloud to children.
  • High tech use by preschoolers is leading to lower reading comprehension.

Although most of The Big Disconnect does not focus on children’s ability to learn to read, the research presented, as well as the anecdotes from the author’s psychological practice, present a cogent argument that technology is rewiring the human brain, and in particular, children’s brains.

Technology is not only inevitable, but it is useful, says Stein-Adair, author ofThe Big Disconnect.  Yet she admonishes parents to use technology willfully, not absent-mindedly, with young children.  Nothing replaces cuddling with a child, listening to a child, and playing with a child.  Unplug your child to give her a better chance at becoming a well-rounded human being, urges Steiner-Adair.

How about you?  How have you handled technology with your children?  Have you noticed the effects mentioned above?  Are you a teacher of young children who has seen a change in children in the past ten years due to technology?  Let us know what you think.

With so many apps available for preschoolers, how do I know which are the best ones to use to teach my child to read?

The best apps to teach reading share many of the same characteristics as the best apps to teach math or to teach games.  Here are some traits to look for, although you will not find each of these traits in every app.

baby looking at an iPad

To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • The app should be age or developmentally appropriate for your child.  It should seem like play but allow the child to gain self-confidence both in mastering the media and in mastering the material presented on the app.
  • The app should be interactive.  Most apps are passive, limiting a child to clicking or scrolling down, but that’s about it.  The best apps allow children to solve problems or to develop curiosity.  Some apps allow coloring, drawing lines and highlighting, with the child deciding how.
  • The app should be intuitive to use.  Using computers is often hard for preschoolers since interaction depends on mastering a mouse and a keyboard.  But pads are intuitive, allowing for swiping with a single finger to move from page to page.  Once the child tries the process a few times, he understands it.
  • The app should allow for repetition.  Young children like to have their favorite books read to them over and over.  They might also like to go to their favorite apps over and over.
  • The app should take advantage of the technology.  A book about a pet might show the word “dog,” but an app might show the printed word, offer a picture of a group of dogs wagging their tails, and create the sounds of panting and barking.
  • The app should be open-ended: divergent, not convergent.  Usually an app encourages a child to hit an icon which might be right or wrong, a dead end for the child.  But if the answer allows the child to continue in a manner she prefers, or to get to an answer in a round-about way, the child has some input into the outcome.
  • The app should extend a child’s skill or make up for a child’s shortcomings.  If a child cannot print yet, or has poor printing skills, a good app would produce the desired letters without the child needing to “write.”  Or for an ESL child or a child with speech problems, a good app might “read” the words aloud so that the child can hear the words pronounced correctly.
    child taking iPad out of toy chest

    To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • The app should be fun and engaging.  Stories should move in time order so that they are easy for a young child to follow.  There should be an obvious beginning, middle and end.  The vocabulary and sentence structure should be comfortable for the child so he gets it the first time he hears it.  The art work should make the child laugh.
  • The app should foster socialization.  Apps that store child-taken photos of a trip to the zoo allow for later sharing with preschool classmates or with family.  Apps that allow a child to film a Barbie fashion show or Grandpa snoring beg to be shared.  SKYPE allows for sharing over great distances.

Spend some time investigating apps for your young children.  Teach them how to access the apps you have selected.  And next week do it again, because the apps—like your child—are always changing.