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Choose technology gifts for children carefully
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Before buying electronic educational gadgets to help children learn, adults need to recognize the difference in active engagement and passive entertainment.
Louise E. Davis, a professor of child and family development for the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said children who are less than 2 years old should not be exposed to interactive digital media. Instead of screen time, she suggested playing with Lego bricks or large building blocks, as well as reading books together, as ways to encourage imagination.
From ages 2 to 5, children do not need more than an hour each day with technology, and that time should be in small increments. Devices should not be used as babysitters. Instead, technologies offer families chances to bond.
“Whether it is reading an e-book or playing a game, kids love to have their parents’ attention as they explore new worlds,” she said. “They enjoy these moments much like parents enjoyed sitting in their parents’ laps and reading books.”
Davis discouraged screen time during meals or one hour before bedtime.
“There are times when technology can distract a fussy child, but using a device to entertain or babysit should be the exception, not the norm,” Davis said.
Mariah Smith Morgan, an assistant professor in the MSU Extension Center for Technology Outreach, said the best goal is to select devices and programs that make the users participants and not just viewers.
“Look for constructive learning opportunities that allow users to be creative,” Morgan said. “Consider their ability levels to avoid frustration and wasted effort and money.”
Morgan said infants may benefit from tablets that can play music such as lullabies or nursery rhymes. It’s not something the child has to watch, but they can listen to while the care-giver plays with them. As they get older, they may benefit from interactive video technology that allows them to play peek-a-boo with grandparents who live far away.
“A 1- or 2-year-old could use a coloring app to create a picture or sit in someone’s lap and listen to an e-book,” Morgan said. “By 3, most children can use simple robots to learn the rudiments of programming.”
Computer games or apps should be interactive in nature and allow the child to create with their imagination.
“By 5 and 6 years of age, children should be able to use apps to construct new stories or ideas,” she said. “This might mean they write their own codes in ScratchJr, create cartoons in Toontastic, or program robots to chase family pets.”
Fortunately, many apps are free.
Morgan encouraged adults to study the reviews for programs to determine age appropriateness and skill levels needed.
“Technical toys are the most useful when they engage the child’s imagination and challenge them to dream new possibilities and write their own ending,” she said.