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What reserach tells us about tablet use

By Joan Stone
Director Cubbyhouse Childcare

IPAD and tablet ownership has more than doubled in the past few years – and as many parents are finding, children are highly proficient at using them.

But are these devices harmful to their development, their physical skill development,  or do they encourage 'technological intelligence' and should we as parents should be embracing their use?

Since their launch, IPads and tablets have now become increasingly popular in our pre-schools and now even most of our primary schools are now installing WFii throughout their classrooms as well. This is the age of HIGH TECH!

If you are an adult in possession of both an IPad and children, the children are the most likely to take the possession over you of the IPad !!

Even ALDI is now joining the budget price war with the launch of a rival tablet for an extremely cheaper price than the other chain store and outlets – Christmas stockings will this year, be most certainly containing one for every child. One Mum claimed her child's first word was not "Mum" or "Dad" but "iPad"!

Some parents are so concerned about the impact of technology on their children that they leave the room to use their mobile.

Which is right? Do parents who choose to limit or deny access to tablets deprive their children of technological intelligence, or are they keeping them safe from an as yet unknown harm?

Maybe, the next generation of the burgeoning app market for children may exceed the teaching potential of more traditional toys, because they will be able to measure growth and give feedback to parents – for very young children, there may be benefits in being able to handle the world of the tablet before they have the motor skills to handle their broader environment.

Jordy Kaufman, director of the BabyLab at Swinburne University in Melbourne, cites a study in which babies who were too young to pick up objects were given Velcro mittens so that objects would stick to them.

"Being able to manipulate their environment gave these very young children a kick start to learning. It is possible that tablet exposure might be doing something similar," Jordy said.

It is hard to find an expert who thinks that monitored and considered tablet use is harmful.

Even Richard Graham, the doctor who was reported to have treated the four-year-old patient for IPad addiction, does not think tablets are bad for children.

Graham, lead consultant for technology addiction at the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London, says that that "case", so eagerly taken up by the tabloids, comprised a single informal phone call with a parent, in which he gave advice.

There was no follow up treatment. He doesn't believe that "addiction" is a suitable word to use of such young children.

The difficulty for parents is that the dangers of tablet use for children – if dangers exist – are as yet unidentified.

Research is in its infancy as know little about what is going on in a child's head while they are using a tablet.

This is partly because it is hard to measure brain activity in someone who is moving, and partly because metal cannot be taken into an MRI scanner. Until we know more, parents can only follow their own parenting instincts.

"There is a school of thought that tablet use is rewiring children's brains, so to speak, to make it difficult for them to attend to slower-paced information," says Kaufman. Then he adds: "But every thought we have rewires the brain in some way."

It is common thought that IPads are designed to mirror the world we know. They appear to operate intuitively, mimetically, responding to, reflecting and re-presenting the user's touch.

Might the way tablets translate our sense of touch create a particularly intense relationship between user and technology – who knows?

Rosie Flewitt, of the Institute of Education at the University of London, has published research on how iPads can support literacy in Nursery, Early Primary and Special Education.

She has just submitted a study, looking at tablet use in the light of recent research into mirror neurons, to an Australian Journal for peer approval.

As part of her research she observed tablet use in a special school, where the children were writing stories and producing book covers on an IPad.

"It was a form of mastery for those individuals that hadn't previously been accessible to them without a lot of help from other people," she says.

"But beyond that there was something about the activities that captivated all the children intensely and motivated them to carry on.

The IPad is a resource that allows students to have access to 'anywhere, anytime learning' - with the IPad device the idea of mobile learning has taken off in education systems around the world, and mobile learning allows students to access the Internet and email, use organisational tools and engage with learning resources as never before.

Parents do not need to have the wireless Internet (WFii) connected at their home for their child’s use as many applications that are suitable for student use do not require an internet connection.

The main advantage of wireless access is the ability to email documents and search the Internet. Another way to connect the IPad with to the internet is through an IPhone using the Hotspot capability.

Teachers can now facilitate a change in student workflow through the multi-media capabilities of the device. This can include the design of digital eBooks and iMovies.

Through the Apple App Store teachers and students have access to over 500,000 apps of which 20,000 are designed specifically for educational purposes.

These applications are only available on an iPad device, thus making it a unique classroom tool to enhance existing classroom practices.

The iPad is compact, lightweight and portable. A battery life of 10 hours will be adequate for the whole school day. It is simple for early childhood students to use as it has an instant-on and no login is required. It is a unique learning tool for supporting teaching and learning.


Michael Walls
0407 783 413

Access News is a print and digital media publisher established over 15 years and based in Western Sydney, Australia. Our newspaper titles include the flagship publication, Western Sydney Express, which is a trusted source of information and for hundreds of thousands of decision makers, businesspeople and residents looking for insights into the people, projects, opportunities and networks that shape Australia's fastest growing region - Greater Western Sydney.