Rise of the iToddlers pt1
We have a lot of pets in my house. A dog, three cats and a 450 litre fish tank to be precise. I also have two daughters, one who is two next week and the other is three and a half. What's great about having animals around kids from a young age is that they learn to respect them, enjoy them and not to be afraid of them. We've had older children come round and be scared of our dog - despite the fact he's fairly small and is himself scared of our cats. I'm glad that my kids are going to grow up with a love of animals and an understanding of them. I think it's important.
I also think technology is important for them. Even more so than for me when I was a kid or any generation since.
Jessica, my eldest daughter, was born in 2010, the same year that Apple launched the first iPad device and changed the way we access technology forever. The world she is growing up in is vastly different to anything I could have imagined as a kid. Information is at her fingertips and she can interact with it intuitively. In about 18 years time she will be leaving education and following a path into a workplace that may not currently exist, at least as we know it now. I want to ensure that she is ready for it as a respectful, learned digital native.
So when I started running out of space on my iPad 2 back in early 2012, I bought a new 128gig device and gave my old one to Jessica. Yep, she was one and she had her own iPad. She'd been using since before she turned one in actual fact but this was different. I stripped out all of my apps and filled it with all of hers. I'll get to which apps I recommend in part two of this article by the way.
In a matter of days she had figured out how to open an app and close it again, both by pressing the home button and pinching the screen. In a few weeks, I began to notice that she'd figured out how to move apps around and even drop them on top of each other to create folders. By the way, it was around this time that passing her my phone to look at became quite interesting as if get it back with all my apps foldered in unusual places!
By the time she was two she was recognising app icons with ease and skimming through several pages of icons to find the one she wanted. She was also now a dab hand at FaceTime as my parents almost found out at 3am UK time when Jessica decided to call them on Christmas Day from Dubai. She'd also come to understand that her iPad ran on batteries and when it ran out, it had to be charged. She would bring it to you when it was empty and tell you it needed charging, even selecting the right adaptor ( we have a stack of old and new Apple chargers in a drawer)
Then she broke it. Dropped it to be precise and we didn't have a cover on it that protected the corners so the screen cracked. We explained to her that we'd get it fixed, which we did, but also why it was broken and how expensive it was compared to her "other toys." To say that she became more careful with it would be an understatement.
She was three when she discovered the camera. I was at an Apple Education event here in Dubai last year when I heard ADE Petr Mara speak about how he was inspired watching his own youngster taking photos on the iPad. Jessica fell in love with it and soon began taking pictures of EVERYTHING. My photo stream was inundated with selfies, dog selfies, pictures of her feet, pictures of the TV - you name it, she'd photo it. Then she'd open up camera roll and talk you through her pictures as if she was David Bailey! She was now creating content rather than just absorbing it. It was around this time that she began to favour more creative apps in general - drawing ones, character designing ones and the like. One of her favourite pieces of digital art is to the right. She even told me that I HAD to print it out for her wall!
She's nearly four now and has been using the iPad for almost three years. Let me just recap what she has learnt from this before we even touch on anything she's gotten from the apps themselves or set foot inside a school:
- that electronic devices are fragile and need to be treated with care
- that they are also expensive
- that we can connect with people in other places with them
- how to use a touch screen interface, developing fine motor skills and coordination
- that common icons do the same thing eg a Red Cross will close a screen and a play button means go.
- how to locate, open and close software applications
- how to group things in folders
- that electronic devices need power and have to be charged by plugging them in
- where and how we charge things
- how to use a digital camera to capture images of the world around her
- to talk about pictures she's taken herself and what they are of
- collaboration and communication skills when sharing an activity
Now before I wrap this up I want to address one more thing. Jessica does not spend her whole waking life on the iPad. Does she play with Lego? You bet. Does she colour and paint? Every day. She also goes outside (Dubai temperature permitting) plays games, loves dancing and any other activity that you'd expect from a healthy, happy toddler. When she does engage with her iPad, my wife and I tend to be part of the process, asking her questions about what she's doing and guiding her.
We've never put a limit on her iPad use and yes, at first, she was obsessed with it. Then it transitioned into a regular part of her life, just as it is for me. I'm a firm believer that if you deny children something, they just want it more and it will eventually come back to bite you. I've taught her how to use the device, how to treat it with respect and look after it and shown her what she can get out of it. Kind of like with all those pets I mentioned at the start.
I think it is crucial that we try to avoid Helen Lovejoy Syndrome (see right) and head straight into panic mode for every apparent threat to our children. It still saddens me that so many things I loved as a kid at school are now banned or frowned upon (conkers, we miss you) and the use of tablets has become the latest target in some quarters. Various reports have been published, as they usually are for any topical issue,with findings and experts falling on both sides of the fence.
At the end of the day, as parents, we are the first teachers kids have. The iPad can be a powerful tool if harnessed correctly, just as within the actual classroom. Not all kids are like Jessica. Some will respond to it more positively than others and gain more from it but this is more likely if you are their guide as with all other aspects of their lives. Remember though - this is not TV and tablet computers offer far more than the passive consumption of content
In the second half of this article, I'll tell you a little about my younger daughter Elena's own exploits with the iPad. I'll also run down the apps that I recommend and the brands that you can always trust.
In this first part of a two part special feature, site founder Steve Bambury reflects on the benefits he has seen from letting his own two young daughters use the iPad.