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APPy or UnAPPY kids: Should young children learn online more?

News Page 26th February 2020

Yesterday, the Department for Education (DfE) published a list of the top six educational apps for two-to five-year-olds to encourage parents to boost their children’s learning at home in speaking, writing and reading.

But is more time online a good or bad thing for young children?

Dr Jane Murray, Dr Jane Murray, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Education (Early Years) and Dr Helen Caldwell, Senior Lecturer in Education (ITE – ICT) argue the cases for and against.

 

Dr Jane Murray: “While many family homes have digital devices, young children need to understand the real world and their place in it before they are immersed in virtual worlds. When young children go online they are missing out on other experiences that are crucial for their health, early development and learning.

“For instance, babies and toddlers develop language when their parents and caregivers speak to them – engagement with digital technologies is no substitute for this.

“From three weeks old, babies distinguish human faces from objects and are hardwired to interact with humans because it is how they learn. If parents and caregivers prioritise mobile phones over interaction with their babies, their faces lack expression and they are unresponsive to their young children, with the result that infants’ and toddlers’ own attempts to interact quickly cease.

“In short, digital technology intrudes on the relationship between young children and their primary carers.

“In recent years obesity has risen exponentially among children, fuelled in part by engagement with screen technologies. Young children need physical activity to help them to remain within healthy body mass parameters but they also need physical activity to develop motor control, spatial awareness and their brains.

“The DfE’s endorsement of a few apps is no substitute for the level of investment it is currently failing to make to secure high quality early childhood education and care for all children. Young children and their families need this now to benefit us all in the future.”

 

Dr Helen Caldwell: “Mobile devices are part of many families’ everyday lives, but of course we need to think carefully about the content of children’s digital experiences.

“A starting point might be to recognise that not all screen time is the same. Rather than a blanket ban on screen time, which is often turned to as a distraction tool for the under fives, we can think about how technology can be harnessed to support the development of communication skills when introduced as one of a number of ways for children to find out about the world.

“The idea behind the DfE expert group’s app choices is that early learning with technology can be fun and visual, and can inspire a love of learning. Their approved apps meet agreed educational criteria, which include elements of play, interaction and a range of levels of difficulty. They all focus on developing speaking, writing and reading skills in 2-5 year olds.

“Key features of these apps are a personalised game-like environment, verbal instructions, and progress tracking. This enables children to progress at their own speed and get instant personal feedback. They can progress to more complex tasks at a comfortable pace. The apps all make use of games, animation, visuals, sound and rewards to make learning fun. Although they support independent learning, I suggest that children are likely to get the most out of them when they are interacting with an adult.

“Thinking about the school learning context, there are many children who have a hard time learning to read through traditional phonics activities. For some of them, a game-like environment may be more accessible. Teachers can introduce some of these apps at school and then children can carry on at home, extending learning beyond the school day.

“In addition to the expert group recommendations, I suggest that parents seek to use apps and mobile devices as a context for talking and playing together. I recommend using mobile devices in simple ways to capture young children’s exploration of the world through photos, videos and sound recordings. These can then become opportunities for talking and building shared understandings about events in the past or future. For example, we can use simple apps to make photobooks, short films or talking slideshows. Children can develop communication skills as they record songs, make their own  i-spy books or collect examples of colours or letter sounds in the environment around them with their parents. All of these can then become wonderful opportunities for talking, thinking and learning together about our personal worlds.

“Through these approaches to the use of mobile devices for the early years we can aim to make their screen time channelled, useful and expressive, boosting early speaking, writing and reading skills.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mobile devices are part of many families’ everyday lives, but of course we need to think carefully about the content of children’s digital experiences.

“A challenge is to ensure children experience technology safely and positively. Although there are many worrying aspects there is also the potential to open-up engagement with learning when devices are used in a constructive way. We can think about how to tap into this potential as part of a balanced and rounded early years’ experience.

“A starting point might be to recognise that not all screen time is the same. Rather than a blanket ban – which is often turned to as a distraction tool for the under-fives – we should think about how technology can be harnessed to support the development of communication skills when introduced as one of a number of ways for children to find out about the world.

“Key features of the DfE’s suite of apps are a personalised game-like environment, verbal instructions, and progress tracking making use of animation, games and sounds to make learning fun. This enables children to progress at their own speed and get instant personal feedback. They can progress to more complex tasks at a comfortable pace. Although they support independent learning, I suggest that children are likely to get the most out of them when they are interacting with an adult.

“Thinking about the school learning context, there are many children who have a hard time learning to read through traditional phonics activities. For some of them, a game-like environment may be more accessible. Teachers can introduce some of these apps at school and then children can carry on at home, extending learning beyond the school day.

“In addition to the expert group recommendations, I suggest that parents seek to use apps and mobile devices as a context for talking and playing together. I recommend using mobile devices in simple ways to capture young children’s exploration of the world through photos, videos and sound recordings.

“Through these approaches to the use of mobile devices for the early years we can aim to make their screen time channelled, useful and expressive, boosting early speaking, writing and reading skills.”

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