The Christmas countdown has begun! As you face the hundreds of options for electronic devices, and digital media for your children this season, check out these ideas from research in child development and education.
- If you want to start your children’s media learning early, choose a touch screen device. Children from toddlers to preschool have an easier time learning from a device that is interactive in nature.
- Preview games, apps and eBooks if possible. Software developers utilize a visual language (called formal features) that include highlighted words, icons, screen cuts, sound and movement. Each company may use a different on-screen language. When these features are used to support the learning rather than just as distraction, kids learn better. Fitting the software to where your child is developmentally (e.g., they can read the instructions on the screen) can decrease frustration and maybe a temper tantrum or two.
- Choose software and games you wouldn’t mind playing with your child. The 2016 recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics for media use among children will be emphasizing co-viewing and co-playing. Both are recommended to help teach children to use media in a more intentional way rather than just a time filler or entertainment. Some research is showing that playing on a device together, whether it’s a parent and child reading and talking about an eBook, or friends playing on an iPad, actually increases learning.
- Buy your children both eBooks and printed books for the holidays. Reading an eBook appears to involve different brain functions than a paper book (problem-solving and decision-making versus verbal comprehension, long-term memory, concentration and tactile processing). EBooks can be helpful to encourage reading in a less motivated child, or for a fun way to interact with your child by clicking on enhancements such as sound effects. But to build literacy skills, or for depth of understanding, choose printed books and talk with your child as you read, asking questions about the characters and storyline.
- Get creative with your purchases. The new emphasis on intentionally building media literacy in children suggests ideas on how to enhance and extend traditional learning and play. For example, consider an iPad loaded with science and art apps. How about a digital microscope? Gift a digital camera and then help your child make a storybook of a recent trip or neighborhood walk, complete with their own narration. Software can help kids remix their own music, make animated cartoons or eBooks, or email their digital drawings to grandparents.
And remember to set those parental controls on whatever devices your children use. There are easy to follow online tutorials for all devices. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
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