Smartphones, Tablets, and Screen Time – Oh, My! (Guest Blogger: Bridget Meis, M.S.Ed.)

Technology is around us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed.  With the increase in the amount of exposure that children have with technology, there are many questions and ideas about what is appropriate. How much screen time is too much? What apps will help my child’s development?  Children get enough technology at home, should I even have it in the classroom? These are just a few questions that come to mind.

There are millions of apps available for download to smartphones and tablets.  When we look at these apps, we must consider several different features in order to choose quality apps that will enhance children’s development rather than just passively exposing them to screen time.

App Features to Consider

We want to look at apps that offer a divergent path and choice making opportunitiesfor children to be able to actively engagewith the app.  Think of the choose your own adventure books that you may have read as a child; these books gave you the opportunity to make your own choice during the story and then see what happens because of that choice.  When we think of apps that offer a divergent path, they provide that same opportunity for decision making, problem-solving, and exploring what happens next.

Children will go through stages of development when using apps, just like they do with real materials. First, the children will tap and explore cause and effect.  Through exploring, children will develop the confidence and skills to make certain things happen within the app.  Finally, children will be able to use the app as it was intended to be used.

So, with that in mind, we want to offer apps that are open ended and invite the children to explorethe features of the app in a non-threatening environment.  Find apps that children can tap and explore in any way that they choose, and there is not a wrong way to use the app.  Some apps that offer this feature are the Toca Boca apps.  There are several available where children can discover on their own what will happen as the interact with the screen.

Apps will never take the place of real-life experiences, so when you are choosing apps, try to find ones that will enhance hands on experiencesor children’s knowledge about the real world.  Give them a chance to take pictures and edit those pictures with games, such as Toca Hair Salon.  You can also find apps that allow children to take pictures of their artwork – the Keepy App with do this, or even create their own stories and save them as a PDF, such as Storybook.  Find apps that will be relevant to the children’s experiences.

We want to keep in mind that when we are giving children the opportunity to use apps with smartphones or tablets, that choosing a quality app is not enough when we look at the appropriate use of technology with young children.  We want to think about how we are interacting with the children as they use the app.  Are we there with the children as they play, to help facilitate and guide the child on how to use the app?  Are we there to encourage conversations and questions about how the app connects to the real world?

Technology is here to stay. Model appropriate use of technology with children as you use it and children use it.  Children are always watching what we are doing, and they will learn from the example you set.

Bridget Meis, M.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. During her time with STARnet, she has presented on a variety of topics including: Apps and Assistive Technology, Social/Emotional development, Creative Curriculum, Teaching Strategies GOLD, Portfolios, Lesson Planning, Mathematics in Early Childhood, Science and Mathematics, STEAM and Family Engagement. Bridget has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education since 2003. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Illinois State University and her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Erikson Institute. Bridget has worked in a variety of early childhood programs with diverse groups of children from as young as six weeks old to children in fifth grade. Bridget has served children and families in private childcare programs and most recently with Head Start.

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