Do toddler educational apps help or harm learning?

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 Healthlink

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KING5.com

Posted on September 4, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 4 at 5:28 PM

"Never never shout in a zoo," librarian Pamela LaBorde read aloud to a rapt audience of preschoolers. It was toddler story time at the Ballard Library. At this age kids like three-year-old Dean Toskey learn at a remarkable rate.

"He loves story time. I check out a ton of books every week," said Dean's mother Kelly Toskey.

"I can read Hop on Pop," exclaimed Dean proudly.

Toskey credits story time at the library, and her own reading to Dean, with helping her son learn to read so early. But electronics also capture the little boy's attention.

"He uses our iPad usually when I vacuum," Toskey said.

Parents can download apps that teach toddlers everything from reading to math. Do the apps help kids get a jump on learning?

Dr. Dimitri Christakis
of Seattle Children's Research Institute is a nationally recognized expert on kids and media.

"In theory a well designed application could in fact be very educational for children," Dr. Christakis said.

He pointed out that learning apps have an advantage over educational TV.

"The difference with an interactive application is that it can be highly tailored to an individual child, and therefore can be much more educational," Dr. Christakis explained.

But all learning apps are not equally effective. So how can parents sort it out? One website, called Common Sense Media, offers  a research based rating system for educational apps. The reviews are based on appropriate learning for a child's age.

Still, Dr. Christakis said, too much time spent on screens has a downside for a child's brain. That includes apps.

"Even the physical fact of interacting with it is two dimensional. And the world is not. So part of this brain development that children are experiencing early on is how manipulation of the real world works," he said.

So whether you use apps enthusiastically, or as a last resort to distract your child in a crowded airport, there's this advice.

"I would never ever suggest to parents that you're better off having your child play with an iphone reading app than reading to your child," Dr. Christakis said.



 


 



 
 

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