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Technology for children: Does it help or hinder learning?

With technology proliferating at a rapid rate, it is quickly becoming integrated into the lives of both children and adults, and despite fears that this could hinder development, new research suggests that technology is actually beneficial to learning.

It appears that in many cases, children are able to intuitively use technologies such as smartphones and tablet devices, however it has sparked worries of the effects on a child’s development.

Research from the University of Wisconsin however concluded that screens can be beneficial to learning, and the more interactive the experience the better. Children aged between two and three were more likely to respond to video screens that prompted interaction, appearing “real” and more familiar from the child’s perspective. This has encouraging educational implications, as children who interacted with the screen demonstrated improved their performance at word learning tests over children who did not use a device.”Kids who are interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster” said Heather Kirkorian, assistant professor in human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin.

A recent study from Stirling University’s school of education found that the family’s attitude to technology at home was an important factor in influencing a child’s relationship with it. They found that when parents were “plugged in” to a device, that it created a barrier between them and their child, a behaviour that could then be inherited.

It seems that technology however is here to stay. Many primary schools and some pre-schools have introduced iPads into the classroom to facilitate learning, with technology and ICT as part of the curriculum. As a result, parents should take the steps to positively influence technology usage at home by setting up rules on screen time to make sure that children do a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities. Also, having some control over how the devices are being used and downloading the best apps and software to aid in learning can ensure that the focus is on education and not time-wasting.

Jackie Marsh, Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield, said: “we are going to outline what we feel should be the principles for good apps because there is a lack of a central resource for teachers. It’s not just a case of giving them the iPad, it’s finding the right quality of apps that’s important.” She also stated there was no evidence that screen-time was detrimental, and recommends a maximum of two hours of screen time each day for children aged six and under.

Helen Moylett, president of Early Education said: “we can get in a terrible panic about this, but toddlers are very curious and savvy. Children are going to be exposed to all sorts of things”. She stated that children quickly get bored with one type of media, and research suggests that they tend to combine screen time with playing with toys and other physical activity.

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