Tech tips for toddlers and pre-schoolers

Each year there are more new apps, ‘smart’ toys and digital technology developments aimed at children, and many parents don’t know where to turn for advice.

An early childhood educator is someone you could ask, as they will be aware of trends in how technologies can be used to help children learn and develop. They can advise you of the apps and games they use in their centre and how you, as a parent or carer, can adapt them for use at home.

If you want to check if the game or app you’re looking at buying for Christmas is as good as the promotion describes, a good place to read reviews is at  www.commonsensemedia.org.

This is a US-based non-profit organization run by a large team of education experts. They offer parents a large and trusted library of independent age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books, and music.

If you would like to understand the principles behind which aspects of digital technology support children’s development, and which are harmful and need careful management, Early Childhood Australia’s (ECA) new Statement on young children and digital technologies is worth a look. 

The Statement provides an overview of existing research about young children and digital technologies in four key areas:

  1. Relationships
  2. Health and wellbeing
  3. Citizenship
  4. Play and pedagogy

Tips for parents

Here is a selection of tips based on advice from the Statement:

  • Use digital technology to promote social interaction—watch online content or play digital games together with your child, and discuss it with them.

  • Help children connect with distant relatives by using technologies, including sending and receiving digital photos, emails, text messages and video chats—video communication is shown to be socially beneficial for young children.

  • Be aware of how you use digital technology around your children—notice when you become distracted by your smartphone or tablet when you’re with them. When you go for a walk or have a meal with your child, use it as an opportunity to have conversations that build language and social skills. Children need you to show them that they matter to you more than checking your emails and that you care about what they have to say.   

  • Limit the amount of sedentary screen time children engage in—for example, sitting and watching a screen without moving. Seek advice on ways to use technology that promote movement—for example, use a smartphone or tablet to take photos or videos outside, or virtual game devices that require whole-body movement (such as a dance-step game on an electronic mat).

  • Avoid screen time in the hour before bedtime—research shows this decreases the length and quality of children’s sleep.

  • Respect your child’s right to privacy and ask their permission to post photos online.

  • Be vigilant about the ‘Internet of Things’—many new popular figurines and toys are internet-connected. Check the permission options for data harvesting and ensure these are turned off.

  • Switch smartphones and tablets to ‘flight mode’ when young children are playing with them—this will help to avoid accidental in-app downloads, which can lead to bill-shock.

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