iPads are Why Your Baby Won't Get into Harvard

BlogHer Original Post

Your kid may be the best screen swiper of all time, able to create giggle-inducing hairstyles in the Toca Boca salon app, but all those iPad hours are keeping your child from building the skills they need for future endeavours, including fine motor skills. We've long heard about how devices are affecting social skills, but now we're also hearing about how a lack of imaginative play can affect children long-term, behaviour-wise and skill-wise.

On the other hand, researchers also found this winter that older kids who utilize iPads have a greater understanding of spatial relations and scale when it comes to vast concepts such as understanding space.

The iPad giveth and the iPad taketh.

baby with iPad

Image: Austin Marshall via Flickr

According to child development expert Cris Rowan, there are sound guidelines that parents should be using to limit their child's screen time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day.

Though it raises the question: if kids are gaining valuable computer skills, what is the harm if they're losing manual dexterity or are unable to take pen-and-paper exams?  Should parents be concerned about old-school skills when their child will need to navigate an increasingly digital world in the future?  Which is more important for a budding engineer to master: non-digital toys or iPads?

The likely winner?  Non-digital toys such as Legos.

The president of the American Society for Engineering Education explained within a pre-iPad essay just how important those manual skills and spatial relations which are build from interacting with the 3-D world is for a developing child.

Kerns has become convinced that immersing children in the world of engineering should begin at an early age. “I think young children are natural engineers—if you've ever seen a 2 year-old figure out how to reach a countertop to get a cookie. They will move things into place, create structures and piles, test them for stability—it really is an engineering kind of a problem.”

Kerns believes that toys and tools—whether used in pursuit of countertop cookies, building forts, or playing with silly putty—can stimulate the engineering instinct in children. “In part, our educational system doesn't identify activities as engineering—teachers don't say, ‘Gee, you know what you just did was an engineering kind of a thing. Those abilities aren't always recognized and stimulated in our children.' ”

Play is about more than using up those afternoon hours: play is how children learn.  Scale, structural engineering, and manual dexterity are all built by manipulating toys such as Legos.  Utilizing apps on a flat screen can't replace the tactile, 3-D world of non-digital toys, in the same way that telling a child about a scientific concept is very different from allowing them to experience a scientific concept with a hands-on experiment.  iPads show.  Non-digital toys give experience.

So don't throw out the iPad (or the baby) with the bathwater.  Just stick to the recommendations of pediatric organizations and limit the hours of the day that your child is glued to the screen.  Once that time is up, send them outside or towards their toys to explore all those concepts in real time that they just viewed on the screen.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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