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Using Technology to Advance Toddler and Preschooler Learning

by Sam Leyvas

Saying no screen time for toddlers and preschoolers is easier said than done. Technology isn’t going away and neither is the desire to make sure that kids are prepared for the world filled with computers at every turn.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no exposure to screens for children under 2 years old. But as the child gets older, families can use technology and interactive media to support learning and ultimately relationships.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, by managing time and choosing developmentally appropriate technology, adults can actually extend children’s learning.

It’s important to note that not all technology is equal when it comes to use with young children. Early childhood organizations make distinctions between passive, non-interactive technology such as certain television programs and DVDs versus age-appropriate websites, phone apps and television programs that allow for the child to be active, create, think critically and problem solve.

At First Things First, we remind families that they’re in charge of managing the quantity and quality of screen time. What does that look like in real life? Finding a balance of activities is key.

Limit your child’s screen time and follow up by allowing time for your child to explore, pick up things and touch things, all ways to stimulate all the senses. For more tips go to healthychildren.org and search screen time.

The quality depends on the adult. Think of technology as another opportunity to interact with your child. Make sure that an adult is always with your child, providing hands-on engagement with what is going on. Zerotothree.org tells families to ask questions to engage thinking skills, such as, “What do you think will happen next?” Or after viewing a show about animals, take a walk and talk about the animals you see.

A smartphone can certainly engage a toddler, but an adult should be with the child to make the experience interactive. Using Skype to talk on camera with family members provides an authentic engagement with people in the child’s life and their world.

Sam LeyvasIn an age where technology dominates so much of the world, families have an opportunity to complement their child’s learning with digital experiences that help them get ready to succeed.

Sam Leyvas is Chief Executive Officer of First Things First. He can be reached at sleyvas@azftf.gov.
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