Friday, December 23, 2011

What type of use?

A Denver Post article, “Proliferation of smart devices begs the question, how young is too young,” by Andy Vuong, quoted parents and pediatricians about the age at which children should be allowed to use iPads and iPhones. Vuong posed an important question: “Will exposure to the gadget harm or help their development?”

The article specifically mentions only a few uses for the devices, like drawing apps, YouTube access, and interactive digital books, and cites research about the benefits of educational videos. Parents and pediatricians seem to agree on the benefit of limiting screen time for young children.

At the start of this holiday break, in a house full of digital devices, I get to watch my two daughters pick tinker. I think there is an important difference between traditional screen time, that looks like television viewing, and creative time.

More and more these days, I spend my screen time reading, scanning Twitter to read about technology in education. With two young daughters, Twitter is a perfect read for the five-minute allotments of uninterrupted time I routinely get. Often, two-year-old Madison will sneak up on me during moments of blissful down time and surprise me by snapping my picture with our digital camera. “Say cheese, Daddy.” Invariably, she captures random photos- my knee, her foot, the ceiling- and only photographs my face when I’m yawning or picking my nose. Other times, she takes pretend pictures with a toy camera or a small box, and she has to imagine the photos. Regardless of the device she chooses, her experience with the digital camera has taught her that she is taking pictures.

This type of experience with a digital tool provides a uniquely different experience than a flashcard app might. I doubt parents or pediatricians would express concerns about photography at a young age.

If children use iPads as mini televisions and the Internet as cable, all the concerns about screen time apply. However, when children experience the creative possibilities of digital tools, we have to recognize that time with a device could just as easily equate to time in an art studio.

When I could not attend a recent iPad training with representatives from Apple, I asked a technology coach in my school district what I missed. “The biggest thing I took away was that effective use is creative use. Students have to be creating,” he told me.

Just yesterday, Hailey, my six-year-old, asked me if she could watch a video on the computer. In my estimation we had watched enough TV, though, so I asked, “Do you want to make a video instead?” About 10 minutes later, we watched a video of her riding circles around the house on her pushbike, singing a made-up song as she rode. Laughing aloud at the video, she asked if we could make another one, this time she wanted to film a talent show. After I agreed, she spent the next few minutes setting up couch cushions as a stage with Madison working as her roadie. A million giggles and a few conspiratorial whispers later, the talent show was cancelled when the girls turned the stage into a fort.

Still, Hailey’s idea to film a talent show remains as something we can do when freezing Colorado temperatures keep us cooped up in the house over this holiday. Making videos with Hailey and allowing Madison to take pictures is exactly the type of creative use to consider when posed with the question:
“...will the device harm or help their development?” It is also the type of use for digital devices that those of us who grew up in front of a television set can overlook.

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