Helping your kids get the most out of tablets

Many of us will have seen that infamous YouTube video of a one-year-old baby swiping her chubby little fingers across the cover of a magazine in a vain attempt to ‘unlock’ it like an iPad, and will either have been appalled or amazed, or maybe even both.

In an age where a third of the UK population now own a tablet, it’s hardly surprising that our youngsters are becoming exposed to them in such a way. But while some accept this as inevitable and think it’s important for children to become technologically literate, others recoil in horror at the thought that the iPad could replace books, toys or actual face-to-face communication.

Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers raised concerns during a conference in Manchester recently. They suggested that the use of tablets is hindering the development of key skills in infants and young children.

“I’ve spoken to a number of nursery teachers who have concerns over the increasing numbers of young pupils who can swipe a screen but have little or no manipulative skills to play with building blocks,” said Colin Kinney, a teacher from Northern Ireland.

Of course common sense will tell us that it’s not a good idea to plonk a pre-school child in front of an iPad and leave them there all day, but is the use of tablets by children really as bad as it’s made out to be, or might there be some benefits?

Jordy Kaufman, director of the BabyLab at Swinbourne University in Melbourne, Australia reckons there are. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, he said it all depends on how the tablet is being used, as there is a growing market for learning apps that can be every bit as educational as traditional toys.

Speaking to the same publication, Rosie Flewitt from the Institute of Education at the University of London said she believes children banned from using tablets could grow up lacking some of the important IT skills that their peers have acquired through appropriate, supervised use of the gadgets.

So, how can you make sure your kids are reaping the benefits of tablet use without falling victim to iPad ‘addiction’ or missing out on the acquisition of important physical, mental and social skills because their little eyes are permanently glued to a screen?

Used appropriately, tablets can be a great learning tool for children


Educational content

Instead of letting your kids play Angry Birds or mess about with OldBooth, make sure that when they do use a tablet they are interacting with educational content and are supervised in doing so.

There is, as Mr Kaufman pointed out, a huge array of apps designed for kids that are both fun and educational, so instead of letting your children loose with an iPad, do a little research to find out which apps will be of most benefit to them and download them onto the tablet yourself. has listed a number of applications it reckons are cool enough for kids, but have plenty of educational content to keep parents happy. There’s Endless Reader and Justin’s World for literacy, Toca Lab and Brains My Body for science and Moose Math and Mystery Math Museum for mathematics.

There are also apps that teach kids the basics of computer programming, apps that encourage their creativity and even apps designed specifically for toddlers to help them learn colours, shapes or animal sounds, for example.

Children’s tablets

Older children, particularly those in secondary school, can obviously benefit from using a real tablet, but if your children are a lot younger and are begging to play with yours, you can compromise by getting them their own children’s tablet.

There are a number of gadgets on the market that mimic the look and feel of a real tablet and work in a similar way using a touch screen – the feature that appears to draw kids to tablets in the first place as it makes them so easy to use.

There’s the LeapFrog LeapPad and the Vtech Innotab 3S for example, both of which let little ones write, draw, take pictures and play educational games, and also feature kid-safe web browsing with easy-to-use parental controls.

And if you don’t want to buy a separate tablet for your children, you can use a child-friendly interface instead which turns your own device onto one your kids can use safely. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, for example, can be turned into a kiddie tablet stuffed with learning games as well as a handy Time Manager feature that lets parents set their own limits on usage.

Strike a balance

Sometimes tired and busy parents are guilty of giving an iPad to a child to keep them occupied instead of spending time on the activities that are most important to a little one’s development. This is especially true for very young children who get bored easily and need constant entertainment.

But using an iPad as a babysitter when you don’t have the time or the energy to play with your children can lead to the kind of problems highlighted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Place limits on the time your children spend using tablets, even if they are playing educational games or using the internet as a learning tool. Encourage them to read books, play board games and get outside as well, because balance is key.

And crucially, supervise your children when they are using a tablet, especially if they are very young. Using the gadget together can boost its educational value, as you can discuss the activities, concepts and information your child is exposed to and enhance their learning through human interaction.

Safety and security

If a child is using an iPad they will be able to access the internet, so it’s just as important to protect them from inappropriate content as it would be if they were using a PC or laptop.

A survey carried out by communications regulator Ofcom last year showed that almost half of parents feel their children know more about the internet than they do, which suggests mums and dads need to swot up a little bit if they want to keep their kids completely safe when using tablets.

Again, supervision is key, but if you can’t be there every time your son or daughter picks up an iPad, make sure you take advantage of the many security features and programs that are available in order to limit what they can do and see via the gadget.


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