Sunday, November 11, 2012

iPads: How Young is too Young?

During the day I help others integrate technology in classes from pre-k to 12. At night, I parent a 10 and 7 year old with very little media integration taking place. I love technology and do believe it can have a profound influence on the quality of education when properly implemented. I also believe that as a parent, I have an obligation to help my children learn how to consume in moderation. After spending two long days in a wonderful iPad conference recently (edTechTeacher iPad Summit), I was left with this question (among others): How young is too young for iPads?

The three part answer:

  • Age 2 and Under
  • Engaging with proper guidance and well designed implementation
  • Managing the time kids spend on devices

1. Under two years, screen time is detrimental. End of story

I know kids under age two can do fun and sometimes amazing things with these intuitive devices, yet there are no known long-term benefits from this opportunity, only known detriments. The American Academy of Pediatrics ( has long held that media input is detrimental to infants and toddlers to age two. They have recently reaffirmed their position(Washington Post, 2011), and still, parents plug kids in, turn a blind eye, or simply don't know the research. I'm going to err on the side of caution here. While my own children were rare screeners at this age, the TV was never used as a device to entertain them and their interaction with computers and other devices started at a later age.

2. With proper supervision and well designed implementation, iPads are powerful tools

As children get older and they begin to use the devices in controlled circumstances, the benefits can be seen. What we need to ask ourselves is whether we are engaging the kids in meaningful activities with proper guidance, or are we simply pacifying them with media consumption. Kids learn by doing. They can get amazing opportunities from educational situations that parents and educators shape to build creativity, and higher order thinking skills utilizing the iPad. Using apps that encourage drawing, painting, building, and using photos and videos to digitally tell stories, kids can get the best the iPad has to offer at any age. There is also evidence that suggests iPads in kindergarten classes can improve literacy test scores (Center for Digital Education, Feb 2012).

There are several people who believe the iPad should not be used at this age. There are concerns about technology addiction and replacing real-life playing experiences with devices (Center for Digital Education, June 2012.) These concerns appear to be legitimate and until further scientific studies are done, we won't have evidence on way or the other. Until then, it is becoming increasingly clear that iPads and similar devices are invading classrooms at all ages in growing numbers. Learning is a process at its best in creativity, not consumption. The following video, from Park Tudor School, highlights a great example of what is happening in iPad deployments across the globe.

3. Kids, like adults, only have so many hours in their days

In addition to the quality of iPad integration, educators and parents should consider the time-on-device. Time-on-device is in significant need of management. Reasons to manage time on the iPad are various.  One key reason is that life has so much more to offer than screen time. As parents with so much to do, it is way too easy to give over to kids who want "twenty more minutes", or even unlimited time with the devices. Kids learn by playing, in the real world. I'm not a fatalist, but I do believe in slippery slopes. I believe in the power of playing outside, the power of building with cardboard, wood, and legos. I believe the benefits of being active and well rounded will be hard to see when our children are four or five years old. As they grow beyond these ages though, the habits they develop in childhood will linger. It will be more and more difficult to change those paths the older kids get. While some children will be easily able to give up the device when it is time to do something else, others will fall too far in, getting a hit of dopamine, making giving up the iPad a painful battle for parent and child (Wall Street Journal, 2012). Since our children only have so many hours in their childhood, my final words of advice would be, fill them with experiences vast and deep, everyday, and leave the iPad to specific, well designed tasks.

iPad Kindergarten Research Starts Turning up Results; Center for Digital Educaiton; Feb 2, 2012
Learning and Creating with iPads in Kindergarten; Park Tudor School; Indianapolis, IN; July 31, 2012
Should Kindergartners use iPads in the Classroom?; Center for Digital Education; June, 2012
What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out on the iPad; Wall Street Journal; May 22, 2012 
All photos and screenshots are the property of Chad McGowan, with the exception of the video screen shot for Learning and Creating with iPads in Kindergarten.

Chad McGowan is a high school technology teacher and professional development specialist in technology. Over the past 16 years, Chad has taught a variety of math and computer course from 7-12. Since 2000, Chad has been guiding other professionals in technology by staying current and learning from those around him. Follow Chad on Twitter @ahstechteacher and through this blog.

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