2 - 5 Years

// Do preschoolers really learn from apps, or are they just playing?

Research on apps is only in its infancy (remember, the iPad was only released in 2010!). However, so far most of the evidence is positive. So yes, preschoolers can learn from apps (in fact they can learn from any type of media. Sometimes it is the less desirable things that we actually don’t want them to learn). The trick is finding the righttypes of apps. You see, not all apps are created equal.

TECHNO-TIP: Look for apps that allow your child to CREATE content (and not just CONSUME content). These apps require more thinking on the child’s behalf, compared to other apps that are more game-based, drill-and-practice apps (where a child may simply need to tap the ‘right’ answer). For example, storytelling apps like Toontastic and Draw & Tell are fantastic apps as they encourage children to be creative and also develop their language skills.

TECHNO-TIP: Look for apps that allow preschoolers to use
and experience LANGUAGE. The latest neuroscience
tells us that young children’s language development
is critical to their later learning. Apps can be a
wonderful way to increase young children’s exposure
to language and give them opportunities to
meaningfully use language. Simple ideas like flicking
through photos on your device and talking about the
photos, can develop language skills. Some other
examples that develop language include Kids
Flashcard Maker which allows children and parents to make multimedia flashcards (you can
insert your own photos, videos and voice recordings
using your touch device) and The Wrong Book (a
book app) which allows children to record their voice as they narrate the story.

TECHNO-TIP: Look for apps that require a high degree of INTERACTIVITY. Merely tapping an answer on-screen requires very basic interactivity. We want young children to think critically about what they are doing with a touch-screen. We don’t want them randomly tapping away on a screen which is ‘surface interactivity’. There are some fantastic apps that encourage ‘deep’ interactivity. Word Wizard is a great example of a children’s app that is interactive. In free-play mode children can attempt to spell words by dragging letters onto the screen and the app will read the word back, phonetically (i.e. as it is spelt). This is a great app for those children who are just learning to spell, as they get feedback on each of their attempts.

TECHNO-TIP: Look for apps that allow children to PLAY. Developmental psychologists and educators tell us that young children learn best through play. Apps can provide new opportunities for ‘digital play’. For example, children can use Happi Full Throttle to pretend to drive one of four vehicles and use the device’s camera as the dashboard. Children can engage in tea parties and play hairdressers (without sacrificing any real hair) with the range of Toca Boca apps.

TECHNO-TIP: Avoid apps with too many BELLS and WHISTLES. Young children are very easily distracted and apps with too many sound effects or cluttered screens can make it difficult for young children to learn. Their brains go into over-load. Look for simple design and minimal distracting features.

// Is it okay to use the TV or iPad to calm down my child, or avoid a tantrum?

It’s certainly very tempting to use a ‘digital pacifier’ when our preschooler is on the verge of a tantrum (or to alleviate their boredom that they emphatically announce!). Many modern parents, myself included admit to using iPads and iPhones from time to time to avert a meltdown or tantrum.

However, we have to be careful about establishing unhealthy media habits. We need to be mindful that we’re not always pacifying children with gadgets! Every now and then it’s unlikely to have long-term or adverse implications. We don’t want our children forming unhealthy attachments to digital devices whenever they encounter ‘big’ emotions. Technology shouldn’t constantly be used as a digital soother!

We need to allow our children to feel ‘big’ feelings. It’s good for children to experience boredom and frustration. We don’t want to teach them to numb these feelings with screens.
Handing over an iPhone might provide temporary relief from the situation at hand, but what’s the long-term impact if we do it all the time? Our kids can’t learn to self-regulate when they’re clutching a screen in their hands.

TECHO-TIP- before you frantically reach for your smartphone or tablet to hand over to avert or end a tantrum ask yourself, “Is it better, in the long run for my child to screen, or to scream? What’s going to serve them best?” (and yes, sometimes using a screen is completely okay. So long as you’re intentional about it!)

// Is TV ‘bad’ for preschoolers?

Sure, excessive amounts of TV or inappropriate content (for example violent content) can be harmful for young children. However, TV can also be educational for young children.

TV can expand young children’s world. TV can make complicated concepts overt. We know that TV can help develop children’s language, academic skills and pro-social behvaiours if appropriate shows are selected. Children’s TV should be slow-paced, repetitive (that’s why Dora repeats instructions throughout the show), have a simple and predictable narrative (story) structure.

TECHNO-TIP: Watch TV with your child. Ask them questions about the storyline or about interesting facts. Encourage them to make connections to their world. In fact, where possible, use any type of technology with your child. This is called ‘co-viewing’ and we have a lot of research that shows us that co-viewing enhances young children’s language skills.

TECHNO-TIP: When you are not watching TV, turn it off. Background TV has been shown to disrupt children’s play, impacts their language development (think of the ‘cocktail effect’) and also reduces parental interaction.

TECHNO-TIP: Avoid fast-paced TV, such as cartoons, before school. These set the brain up for rapid-fire input, which in turn makes it difficult for a child to concentrate at school.

// Can you recommend any good apps for my preschooler, to help with new words and sounds?

Whilst apps are certainly no substitute for real, face-to-face interactions with parents and carers, there are some great apps that can support children’s language skills.

Here are a few of my favourites that I recommend to parents and educators or preschoolers.

Tiggly Words– This is an innovative app that is designed for children aged 4 to 8 years. It is an app that integrates with “tablet toys” (in this instance you purchase some magnetic vowels that you can use with your tablet device). Again, we’ve road-tested this app and Mr 4 is amazed and highly engaged (and yes, he’s learning sounds and is loving this!). There are three apps that can used with the magnetic letters: Tiggly Submarine Tiggly Tales and Tiggly Doctor (and it’s possible to use the apps without the magnetic letters).
Reading Eggs– This Australian-based app developer produces a great range of literacy apps for pre-schoolers, with Australian accents (this is so important for literacy as the enunciation of sounds needs to be correct). They also have apps for pre-schoolers right up to children aged 13 years.
Learn With Homer– This is a very detailed app that features a comprehensive literacy curriculum, designed for children aged 3 to 6 years. It’s a subscription app but it’s worth every cent.
Oz Phonics– This app developer makes a series of literacy apps specifically for children aged 3- 8 years. Developed in conjunction with a literacy expert, these apps specifically teach essential early literacy skills like phonics and letter-sound-relationships with an Australian (or New Zealand) accent.
Kids Flashcard Maker- Children can create their own multimedia flashcards with photos, videos, text and their own voice recording. This is a great ways for preschoolers to learn new vocabulary and create digital content.
// Is it okay to use Skype with our pre-schooler and his grandparents who live overseas?

Absolutely! In fact, there’s some emerging research that shows that young children benefit from using video chat technologies. It can help young children form and build meaningful relationships as well as develop language skills.

Parent Tech Tips-

To maximise the benefits of video–chat technologies:
1 Pick a good time of the day – be mindful and avoid times when little ones are tired or hungry. Make sure that they’re well fed or have snacks on hand so that they’re not distracted.
2 Use mobile devices like tablets, smart phones and laptopswhere possible – so it’s easy to move around different places in the house.
3 Prepare props – encourage children to have some toys, books or artwork they’ve created to share on the call. This keeps it relevant and meaningful and gives young children something concrete to discuss. Also, encourage the other person to bring some props too. Reading a book to a grandchild is a great way to build authentic relationships.

// How can I keep my child safe on You Tube?

Regardless of how sophisticated your Internet filter is, there’s no way to completely guarantee your child’s safety when using You Tube. Here are some preventive measures that you can implement to reduce the likelihood that your child will encounter inappropriate material.

Use You Tube with your child- this isn’t the easiest tip to implement, but it’s by far the most effective. Co-viewing not only has educational benefits for your child, but it is also the best way to ensure their safety online.
Turn on Safety Mode when using You Tube– this blocks inappropriate materials such as pornographic or objectionable language. (It’s important to note that this feature is not 100% accurate as it relies on other users flagging content as inappropriate.)
Create playlists on You Tube- create a list of videos that you’re happy for your child to watch and only allow them to vide from this playlist.
Use You Tube curation apps- use an app like iTubeList to create a playlist of appropriate videos. This minimises the chances that our children can access inappropriate content.
Use You Tube Kids- Google have released a child-friendly version of You Tube. It’s important to note that this doesn’t guarantee that the videos your child can access are age-appropriate. There are also mounting concerns that children’s advertisers are flocking to this platform to market directly towards kids.

// Why does my child like watching You Tube so much?
Unboxing videos, where children literally watch other children unwrap toys on You Tube, have become increasingly popular. Kids are mesmerised by manicured or tiny hands that hover over toy boxes and slowly unwrap packages and gifts. Unboxing videos have attracted thousands, even millions of viewers and are a lucrative business for some video creators.

So why do they become so engrossed with these videos?

The anticipation associated with unwrapping a gift actually releases adrenaline and endorphins in the brain. So when they’re viewing they’re having a neuro-biological response.

These lengthy advertorials are very different to 15-second TV commercials. As parents we need to be wary of this indirect form of advertising and consumerism. And consumerism can become addictive. It can release dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter and kids naturally want more and more of that feeling!

Basically, limit your child’s viewing of unboxing videos. Have strict limits on what they can watch and the exact number of episodes and try to co-view or ask them questions about what they were viewing.