So it all started yesterday when I went toy shopping for a 5year old. While I was interested in a board game, the salesperson gently guided me to a more appropriate section for the age group. The section I generally refer to ‘Children and Technology’.
There were all sorts of options, from STEM toys which could sync with your iPads to the ones you could use your smartphones with. And if that was not enough, there was this whole new breed of Augmented Reality Toys.
Now, being a Computer Engineer myself, I have no bias against technology but I really wonder if all this technology is really needed at pre-school and kindergarten level. All these toys come with tall claims like the ‘smartest’, ‘best educational toy’ etc. But do they really deliver what they promise?
Here is my take. When we are talking about young children and technology, there are few factors we need to consider before investing in such games/toys:
1. Early childhood is a period when children benefit most from one to one personal interactions. They are building on their sensorial skills and require all senses to be engaged. Technology, however, engages sight and hearing most.
There is a complete lack of touch, taste and smell. Anyone who has played with the children of this age knows pretty well how these children like to taste and touch everything, even when it is not appropriate. This is an intuitive way of exploring and learning for all children up to 5 years. Technology not only fails to address this way but also dampens it by stimulating only hearing and sight.
2. Another reason I feel these tech toys are unnecessary is because of the wide variety of options available to learn the same skill set and probably in a better way by engaging all five senses.
When a child learns to count or recognize alphabets using traditional non-tech ways, she explores books, blocks, magnetic letters & numbers, traces them with her fingers. And all this while she learns to differentiate between the various materials she has been using.
For those who are still wondering what I am trying to say, imagine a pre-school where Montessori is replaced by gadgets and the best of technology.
3. Toys based Educational technology are a big blow to children’s innate creativity. Most of these toys are so engaging that the child forgets his/her other talents. They are more interested in their tablet and smartphone to leave the couch and go on a scavenger hunt, spot bees, paint and make their own silly stories. All these things are real talents which a child needs to learn.
4. Most of these technological toys are educative in nature. Somehow, I feel they play on the weaknesses of the parents. A talking tablet is more useful for a child who lacks real human interaction.
Similarly, the toys which claim to make child smarter play out on the parent’s fear that their child may lag behind her peers. All this do nothing but add to parent’s anxiety and in worse case put pressure on the child.
5. We all know how addictive technology is. With parents finding it hard to keep their phones down, imagine how technology feeds young brains. Some people have even gone far to compare its addiction to heroin.
And when this addiction starts so early, it is scary to imagine the consequences. Often such children find it impossible to keep themselves entertained and constantly look for external stimulus.
6. According to a study titled Cell Phones: Technology, Exposures, Health Effects published on the website of Environment and Human Health, electromagnetic radiation from cell phones is not good for the human body.
It is more worrisome for younger children whose the skulls are yet not thick enough. The report stresses that extensive use of cellphones and their resultant harmful radiation can lead to diminished learning, diminished reaction time, decreased motor function, reduced memory accuracy, and diminished cognition. Thus, making children and technology a less healthy combination.
7. Another research led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos.
Studies have shown that even watching educational programming such as Sesame Street, delays language development. Thus, refuting the advantages of children and technology.
I am no judge and neither am I anti children and technology. But I strongly feel that early childhood can do without it. It is not really required to introduce technology so early in life and surely its absence will (in no way) slow down your child.