Babies and Touch Screens

can we play

I recently had the pleasure of assisting in a post evaluation, parent follow-up with Keaton. Keaton is developmentally still functioning under the age of two.  Keaton, who with all his strength and potential still needs more physical play.   But then again, we all could benefit from more play time.

Evaluator, “During our testing, Keaton struggled with puzzles.  He was not able to complete a three-piece wooden shape puzzle.”
Parent, “I do not understand, he can complete eight to ten piece shape puzzles on the I-Pad”

Evaluator, “Keaton was able to attend to tasks for two to four minutes”
Parent, “I disagree; at home, he attends to his computer learning programs for twenty to thirty minutes”

What Keaton’s parent did not understand is that computer manipulations and physical manipulations are not the same thing.  Attention to a screen and attention for learning are two different things.  Keaton could attend to screens and swipe and such but that was not translating into cognitive development.  Keaton enjoys watching and interacting with screens but that time was not stimulating his brain in the necessary places.

Research project after research project tells us: Kids, who are functioning under the age of two, learn and improve their skills by moving through their environment and manipulating things.  Why do babies mouth things-to learn.  Why do toddlers toss-to learn.  Keaton is still learning primarily by physical contact, by touch and exploration in the physical world.  Yes, he enjoys screen time but that engagement is not going to be a primary facilitator of skill development.

In today’s society more and more kids are sitting in strollers, playing on I-pads (like Keaton was during the skill review).  I see more and more kids sitting, being entertained by I-pads.  Now let me just say, I am all for entertainment to survive, especially during times of stress; however, like Keaton’s, some parents need to be reminded that study after study shows–kids under two are not learning when they are on the I-pad.

Children are drawn to the visual surprises on screens. That is what is keeping the kid’s attention. The constant changing of the visual screen excites the brain.    Yes, they may repeat what they have just heard. But a parrot can do that.  Think about it: Attention to visual surprises kept cave men alive!

Kids learn to pay attention to the content of a screen around the age of two.  This is when the words that are being spoken, and the sounds/the visual information presented, can start to have meaning.   

From an educational standpoint, kids under the age of two need the cues found during physical play to learn. They learn from experiencing how things are connected in relationship to each other.  How one block feels differently than another.  How those same objects sound and look different from different angles.  How this block fits here and this block does not.

Technology is here to stay.  How it is going to effect the Keaton’s of tomorrow? Only time will really tell.   In the meantime as parents and educators, we need to use technology with an understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.  We do not need more cave men and parrots in our world.

As parents and educators we need to fill the “what’s missing” with good old fashion gross motor play.  To fill the “what’s missing” with ourselves. The “what’s missing” MATTERS.

Picture Bing images:


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