Not All Screen Time Is Created Equal – Young Children and iPads

Having a 1to1 iPad initiative in Kindergarten for almost 3 years (and currently in 1st & 2nd, as well), it's not surprising that we have heard a lot of comments and questions from parents about screen time.

The concern, of course, is that by having iPads in the primary grades (and especially 1to1, not just shared) young students are getting too much screen time.

It's understandable given the screen time research that has been around for a couple decades, mostly focused on children's television watching habits.

But in 2010, David Kleeman, President of the American Center for Children and Media, wrote, “A Screen Is a Screen Is a Screen'” Is a Meme, putting forth the idea that not all screen time is the same. Kleeman comments on at least two distinguishing factors. The first is the quality of the content. Certainly watching Sesame Street is of a different value than watching Tom & Jerry cartoons.

The second is how active (mentally or physically) the screen time is. Using educational or creation/productivity apps might be a better use of screen time than watching certain videos or playing certain games. Or as Kleeman points out, “David Pogue says, 'You can't play Kinect sitting down, and that's a plus.'” Kleeman refers to these as “lean forward” and “lean back” screen time. Lean back screen time is passive, while lean forward is active.

In fact, most of the screen time research and position papers seem to predate any significant introduction of the iPad, it's child-friendly touch interface and the plethora of educational and creation/creativity oriented apps (e.g. Kaiser Family Foundation 2010; American Academy of Pediatrics 2010; Common Sense Media 2011). It is easy to forget just how new an educational device the iPad really is!

There is a more recent position statement, jointly from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, which brings a balanced (or at least timely) view to the potential role of technology in educating young children.

The paper includes these position statements:

“Effective uses of technology and media are active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering; give the child control; provide adaptive scaffolds to ease the accomplishment of tasks; and are used as one of many options to support children’s learning.”

And…

“When used appropriately, technology and media can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities.”

To be clear, no one is arguing that there is no need to be thoughtful about how we leverage iPads for young student learning, nor is anyone arguing that iPads should replace hands-on, active learning (both are fears I sometimes hear expressed).

But I do want to state explicitly that the current screen time research does not contradict the (thoughtful) use of iPads with primary grades students, and in fact, there are productive, educative, developmentally appropriate uses.

 

I want to add as an aside the importance of training and professional development for teachers and other school leaders, if we are going to make primary grades iPads work. If the secret is “thoughtful” use of iPads as a learning tool, and where this post is directed to those who may want to respond to (erroneous) claims that screen time research suggests that young children should not be using iPads, I want to also share another position statement from the NAEYC paper. Educational leaders who recognize the educational value of primary grades iPads need to fully support teachers striving to meet that vision:

“Early childhood educators need training, professional development opportunities, and examples of successful practice to develop the technology and media knowledge, skills, and experience needed to meet the expectations set forth in this statement.”

 

Thanks to Sue Dorris for her contributions to this post.

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