Almost every child that we've been around loves smart devices like the iPhone and iPad. I've lost count the number of times I've seen a child throw a tantrum when his or her parent takes back their device. (I obviously spend a lot of time around spoiled children;) Our 3yr old nephew uses his mom's iPhone like a mini Computer Science major; these devices are so intuitive that even the most untrained hands can manipulate them. This is the world we live in. Technology is becoming more and more pervasive by the year and even our littlest ones can't seem to avoid it. Many, in fact, relishing the chance to interact with it.

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The technology boom at hand is offering an interesting opportunity. We, as parents, must start to make some difficult decions in these unchartered times about how much technology we are willing to expose our young children (birth to six) to. Unlike with the rise of video games of the '80s when playing Mario Bros. was clearly for entertainment rather than stimulating brain cells, today it would be fair for some developers to argue that their programs, digital books, mobile apps, etc. actually offer tremendous educational value. So, how do we decide if the learning opportunity is worth our child spending hours in front of a screen?

I was recently discussing the subject with Sharon who writes the mommy blog, A Dollop of Me. I had asked Sharon if she was interested in reviewing our new preschool app - Letter Buddies Alphabet Discovery - but she informed me that she doesn't own an iPad. She was curious about my thoughts on whether digital products, like our educational iPad apps, are really having a positive effect on learning at these early years. Clearly they're more educational than playing Angry Birds, but are they better than reading a book? As I told Sharon, I don't think there's a widely accepted answer. I believe there are a lot of educational benefits, but the jury is still out on whether technology is having the kind of meaningful impact on children's learning that we all hope it would have. While those of us who create digital products for early childhood education, be it mobile apps, online educational games, video games or the like, feel strongly that we're bringing something positive to the table, I don't think we've been definitively proven right. Not yet. Much of what we believe is subjective and based on anecdotal experiences as seen on a case-by-case basis. For parents, like Sharon, who are choosing to limit the amount of screen time their child experiences in the early years in favor of more traditional childhood activities, there is certainly nothing definitive to say that their child is missing out on a learning opportunity. 

As with many parenting decisions, choosing how much technology to expose your child to is very personal with parents running the decision gamut from those willing to buy their 2-yr old an iPad to parents who shun technology all together. The only right answer is whatever you as the parent thinks is best. As far as The Dragon is concerned, we are going to land somewhere in the middle. Based on our work, you could probably guess that we believe things like digital apps for children can have a positive impact, but we also believe finding a balance between screen time, books, arts & crafts, and good-old-fashioned running around is the best answer. Learning comes in so many forms, so why not take advantage of the myriad of options that are available to kids whether that means interacting with an iPad app or spending the afternoon at the museum. How much screen time we will ultimately expose The Dragon to will depend on how she responds and where her interests will lie. We believe every child is different, and how best to teach them should be decided on a case-by-case basis.



Digital



VS.
Analog

As this generation grows up over the next 20 years, there will be more evidence about the impact technology is having on our kids' learning. So whether we want it or not, our kids are the guinea pigs. We believe that connecting learning and technology is the obvious next step, and offers some real opportunities that traditional mediums lack. One of the most compelling reason for digital learning products is that they can offer better engagement. Animation, video, sound effects, and music provide a multi-sensory experience that in many cases can be more interesting and engaging than a flash card or book (this is coming from a book publishers too!).  If something (an app, book, craft, etc.) is able to hold a child's attention for a meaningful amount of time, then there's a fighting chance that the child will be able to learn from the experience. In contrast, if a child is disinterested in what they're doing, then how could we expect them to be in the right state of mind to concentrate and learn?  
The mobile apps that we've created offer a range of educational opportunities from stimulating imagination, practicing phonics, to reading basic sentences. While we think there is a positive impact to be had by using products like ours, we are also realistic that not every digital product is able to affect learning. In the end, parents must be involved in their child's education. A parent's role should be to enhance and shape how and what a child is learning regardless of the learning tool. In the early years, it's not enough to simply plop your child down with an iPad or book and expect learning magic to happen. In the coming weeks and months, we will be launching a series of blog posts and videos that we hope will offer ideas for how to more effectively use a range of products (digital and not) to impact a child's learning. There's no easy solution, but a consistent, thoughtful balanced approach can help to foster good learning habits and build a child's enthusiasm for learning – the type of foundation that we believe all children deserve.

Cheers,
Kevin
 


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