Monthly Archives: July 2014

Doing what is best for our youngest children–Electronic & Technological Toys

We are continuously bombarded with ads of electronic toys that promise children’s learning. Electronic toy manufacturers are making rather miraculous claims in helping infants, toddlers and preschoolers learn mathematic/reading concepts and skills.
Even parents of our youngest children, infants and toddlers, are promised young children’s learning of A,B, C’s, sight and color words, numbers, and the relationship of cause and effect. One electronic toy for children six months through three years has 75 songs, colors, sight words, and letters. And we have seen a dramatic increase in infant toys that promise stimulation and learning. Advertised is a panel that hangs over the crib and uses colorful patterns, sounds, and lights to help the infant calm herself to sleep, yet there is no way for the infant to avoid the stimulus. There are now ‘baby laptops’ and ‘baby smart phones’. I saw an ad for an electronic panel in an infant’s bouncing seat, with the computer program lasting for ten minutes.
You can ask yourself “should I buy this toy?” or perhaps you are in the situation of “how can these toys be more meaningful?”
These same questions plague the use of electronics with preschool children. What we see is that children are drawn to electronic technical products, be it smart phones, I-pads, or a myriad of toys that have electronic components. Children seem to need little instruction in usage and they seem to enjoy them.
Research I conducted in 2010 in a laboratory childcare center, indicated families were using technical products with children of younger and younger ages. Families reported children experiencing a ‘gravitational pull’ to the products, and easy usage.
We all have seen or used smart phones or I-pads with children while we are waiting for a doctor’s appointment or for food in a restaurant. Some families use technology to the extreme. One afternoon in a restaurant I saw two parents and two children (one preschooler and one primary age), each using smart products and not talking to each other, as they waited for their food.
On the national scene, the American Academy of Pediatrics has again recommended no screen time (including DVDs, television, and computers) for children infant through two year olds, and one hour per day for preschool children. Since this is the second time the Association has had this recommendation, we have to assume that the stance, regardless of the plethora of media for children, the position will not be changing.
Young children are active, manipulative learners. They like to interact with parents, and others when doing an activity. Technology usage may be a more passive, quiet type of learning.
Infants and toddlers are sensory, concrete learners. They manipulate, feel, hear, and yes ‘taste’ toys and materials (have you ever seen an older infant or younger toddler, chewing on a book?). Piaget called this the sensory-motor stage.
Even though electronic toys and technological products are so prevalent, there are other ways, and more interesting ones for children learning these same and additional skills. How does a mechanical toned voice singing compare to a person singing the same song, using more expression—lower and raising the tone and volume throughout, or pausing for the child to join in singing? Electronic songs cannot and do not respond to children. Your children love your singing, even if you do not think you have a good singing voice.
Counting or letter recognition without connecting it to something concrete and meaningful is simply rote call and response. But counting plates or napkins for the dinner table, takes on more meaning. Think about all of those counting nursery rhymes that are predictable, sing-song, and have been used for generations. Children learn number sequence, a sense of number at the same time phonemic awareness, or distinguishing sounds which is necessary for reading.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center has issued joint recommendations so that there are some computer guidelines for usage. We do need experiences not only for children to enjoy, but ones in which they can pace their own learning. In other words, technology and software needs to be developmentally appropriate to your child.
Some of you still may be asking yourselves, “So what is the harm? She loves it”. I believe the use of electronics can only be effective when you are interacting with your child. You should be taking time to talk about the actions/responses, sing along, or doing the experience with your child. Electronic toy usage should be only one of a myriad of activities and experiences for your infant, toddler or preschooler.
There should be lots of reading stories or information books, music making, playing and dance. Saying/singing nursery rhymes like “Hickory Dickory Doc”, “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Our grandparents may have not realized it, but they were preparing us for reading. Now we have research that shows such phonemic awareness in nursery rhymes is a predictor of success in learning to read. Who knew our grandparents were so smart?