The use of smart technology is not only considered normal in education but is now a vital skill to learn and have for the future. Tablet learning is particularly popular, with 90% of surveyed schools stating they've incorporated tablets into their classroom experience. If you use tablets in your early years setting, or are thinking of including this, read on to find out more of the pros and cons of this type of learning.
As a child grows, they will inevitably be exposed to more 'screen time', be it in education, at home or in their social life. Various theories suggest this to be a good thing - with many benefits and skill-development opportunities. Others say that screen time is dangerous and harmful - and that introducing this tech too young can be developmentally damaging.
As tablets are still relatively new in educational settings, there's limited research on their long-term effects on educational outcomes. As this new generation grows up into adults, we will know much more about the potential impacts digital learning has had.
Tablets can be used for a number of things, including:
- Numeracy and literacy development. Certain apps, games and features will let children interact with numbers and letters in a way that they can't be using just a pen and paper. Tablets can also bridge the gap when children are at an age where they can recognise a number but not yet write it using a pen, helping them to engage with the subject without needing handwriting skills.
- Games and entertainment. Tablets can make for a great recreational activity for children. Many games for children are also educational, incorporating popular characters like Peppa Pig or Thomas The Tank Engine to keep children interested.
- Health education. Many games and apps help children to learn about diet, teeth cleaning and general hygiene.
- Communication. Children can learn to Facetime, send messages and talk to friends using technology - something that may have been particularly beneficial during the pandemic. For older children, tablets can be used to submit work to teachers.
- Creativity. There are many arty things you can do on a tablet, such as drawing and colouring - helping to develop fine motor skills and colour and shape recognition. In older children, games like Minecraft can provide a limitless landscape for imagination.
- Research. Children can look up subjects and special topics to help them learn, play and do homework.
- Watching videos. Children can watch documentaries, youtube clips, and other video content to enhance their learning.
Let's explore these areas in more detail.
Many educational experts and parents alike will agree that if an iPad app or game can be educational, it is preferable over one that isn't. For example, if it's a choice between a racing game and an interactive puzzle, the puzzle might be deemed more suitable. Saying that you can find educational merit in just about any tablet feature. Here are some great features to look out for and a few game recommendations too.
Numerous apps and games exist to help preschool children learn the shapes of letters through the use of tracing. Instead of using a pen, which can be slightly tricky in this age range, the child can trace the letter or number using a finger. The app might then reward them for getting it right. There might be a number of difficulty levels to help encourage further learning.
Some apps and games will help you to hear and sound out a word or phrase. Children can go at their own pace using a tablet, rather than trying to keep up with the group.
Sounds / Colours
Interactive games with bold colours and sounds can help babies and toddlers to learn and identify shapes with ease. Something as simple as an interactive piano, or farmyard animals with associated noises, can help babies to make connections.
Long gone are the days when a missing puzzle piece ruins a game - digital puzzles are more convenient than the real thing, and just as effective at improving cognition, memory, focus and creative thinking. Digital puzzles can come in varying difficulty levels and hundreds of fun themes.
Memory games are a brilliant way to develop a child's memory and cognition. It might be a simple card-matching game, or having to remember items in a virtual shopping bag. There are hundreds of memory games to choose from.
Interactive Health Games
A game that allows children to brush their teeth until they are clean, visit a dentist or doctor, prepare food safely or care for an animal can help to teach them about their health and the health of others.
Something as simple as YouTube Kids or Cbeebies can contain ample resources on health, bodies, friendships and other social issues.
You can see there are literally thousands of games and apps children can use to enhance their learning. But there are other upsides to table learning too. For example:
Some children won't gain access to smart technology at home. By having this technology in the childcare setting, they can gain vital exposure to tablet learning without the parents having to buy one.
Some children prefer to learn at their own pace and don't cope as well in group environments. If a child wants to take her time with an activity, allowing her to do this independently using a tablet can give her the freedom to learn this way, without feeling rushed.
Those of us who didn't see a computer until adulthood will know how challenging it was to learn it. By introducing children to IT early, it becomes second nature later in life. Children nowadays can also learn new, modern and innovative IT skills like coding.
As mentioned before, authoritative research is lacking in the area of tablet learning due to it still being new to our society. There is, quite rightly, some concern about the health and safety risks associated with tablet learning.
Here are some potential risks to be aware of:
Children are twice as likely now to have severe short-sightedness than they were 50 years ago. There is a hypothesis that this can be linked to the way children interact with screens.
It should be known that the main reason for short-sightedness is genes - it runs in families. So technology cannot be 100% blamed for this condition. But overly focusing on the screen for too long can cause digital eye strain, which can worsen pre-existing vision conditions. If a child is mildly short-sighted and uses screens for long periods of time, their vision could theoretically deteriorate at a more rapid rate than a child who doesn't look at screens.
Therefore a child's screen time must be monitored, with regular eye breaks to prevent eye strain.
Research exists to support the theory that the light from screens can disrupt our circadian rhythm. This refers to our body's ability to be awake and asleep at the right times. Screen time late at night can cause a child to fall asleep later than usual, making them tired the next day. This could then interfere with their ability to learn. This is not a risk factor when screens are used during the morning or early afternoon.
Pop-ups, adverts, fake links and chat features can pose a risk to children, exposing them to adult material or creating a risk to the device's security. Any tablet used in a childcare setting should be properly monitored, with all the available firewalls and security settings enabled to reduce these risks. Parents can also be educated on online safety to help protect their children when they are at home.
The upsides to tablet learning are enormous. Children can access more educational content than they'd find in a classroom, enjoy more diverse game features and interact with their learning in a new and exciting way. As tablets play a vital role in adult life, teaching children how to use them at a young age will make it second nature to them in teens and adulthood. Tablets can also benefit children who want to learn at their own pace or independently.