Five years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared screen time should be completely avoided for children younger age 2, and a focus on learning through interacting with people was preferred. But now, in 2016, the organization is revising its stance, which representatives say was outdated from the onset, according to The Wall Street Journal. With smartphones in nearly all parents’ hands at least some of the time, exposing toddlers to tech seems unavoidable.
But how much screen time — or how little — is ideal? Here is what to be aware of when considering introducing your toddler to technology if you want to use a tablet or a smartphone as a learning tool.
Emphasize Interactivity and Practicality
Devices can be particularly helpful when they act as substitutes for physical tools such as a paper and pen but come with helpful features built-in, such as instant traceability for letter-writing learning. A device like the Samsung Galaxy Note7, which comes with a stylus, helps toddlers to practice letters by using apps that allow them to trace their movements. A device that is also waterproof, like the Note7, makes it more user-friendly for toddlers and allows them to learn just about anywhere without parents having to haul extra materials around.
Like a smartphone can become a useful writing device for toddlers, doing an activity such as reading a book to your child on a tablet instead of a physical book can still provide your child with the benefits of strengthening their comprehension skills and accumulation of vocabulary. It’s important for you as the reader to promote the interactive aspect of reading with your child so that they’re not just mindlessly staring at the screen.
Steep the Screen in Reality
When the person on the screen is a real adult, learning is enhanced and can mimic that which takes place in real life. The Wall Street Journal reports that video chats are just as effective in teaching children vocabulary as a live presentation, as long as there is the opportunity for toddlers to engage in communication with the person on the screen. Getting real-time feedback and encouragement during a task such as a vocabulary lesson helps reinforce strengths and eliminate weaknesses.
Cause and effect is an important concept to look for in apps in order to stimulate learning in toddlers. An app like a bubble popper allows young ones to actively pop bubble wrap and learn that their actions have reactions while they hone fine motor skills, while a shape-and-color sorter app or hidden object game presents a fun way for older toddlers to start to practice recognizing patterns and categorizing, which is an important cognitive milestone.
Don’t Let the Screen Become the Sole Teacher
Despite the benefits that technology offers toddlers in their learning, even doctors who advocate for changing the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines still only recommend a maximum of 60 to 90 minutes a day of screen time for toddlers. The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports too much screen time can negatively affect young ones’ sleep quality and deprive them of the physical activity they need to develop optimally.
Making sure the screen time focus is on education, such as playing a block game or doing an age-appropriate puzzle, is far more valuable than passive screen consumption. If you are going to present a toddler with a television program or cartoon, ensure there is an educational aspect or that it is specifically geared toward the toddler’s age group so they are better able to understand what is happening on the screen. Be an active participant with your toddler while they are using a screen so you can focus on the teaching and learning aspects. The American Academy of Pediatrics states the more face-to-face participation that accompanies the screen time, the better it is for your toddler.