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Do apps help baby learning?

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
Do apps help baby learning?
A contentious issue of modern life, is parents feeling under fire for using iPhones, iPads, DVD's etc and anything techie for keeping their children amused, educated and temporarily babysat!

So are they right to use them? Is it helping promote their children's development or is it purely a babysitting device?

One of my lovely clients Elicia, pointed my attention in this direction and it got me thinking.

Six years ago, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) filed a complaint against two baby video companies—Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby. They argued that parents were being bamboozled into thinking that the videos would make their infants and toddlers smarter. Three years later, Baby Einstein—then owned by the Walt Disney Co.—said it would issue refunds. Advocacy groups cheered, and many early childhood teachers walked away with a sense of satisfaction and victory. Read more on this here:

So what is the truth? Can children under 3 actually learn anything from video?

It all depends on the context. That means is it being interacted with by the parent who is present? Is the parent sitting with the child and commenting on what is happening/being said or is the parent absent from interaction or even in another room?

Think about a situation where a child presses something that shows a picture of a cow to hear it moo. This could be an app, a plastic busy box toy, or a book with embedded sounds.

Now picture two mothers. One mother hands the busy box to her child and says, “Can you find the cow? What does a cow say?” Her child looks at her, and she points to the cow picture. She presses it and smiles as she turns to look at him again. “Moo! Can you say moo? Let’s say moo. Moo!”

The other mother takes a different approach. She just hands the child the toy and walks away.

It’s the “walk away” part that no one likes.

That’s where the childhood advocacy groups become concerned. But that is happening with regular toys and iPads and TV's, too. It’s happening with board books. It’s happening with children who otherwise receive lots of love and nurturing interaction throughout the day. And it’s happening with children who are starved for attention and given nothing more to do than gaze at the side of their playpens for hours at a time.

And yes I've seen plenty of this in my time but … It got me thinking about my own childhood and I remember sitting on my mum's knee while we watched 'Listen with Mother' together on the TV. I remember us sharing the experience and talking and singing together. That's the important thing.

Is it a shared experience? Is there interaction?

Can the child interact with the parent? That's important too. The age where this is more likely to happen is around 12-18 months plus.Researchers found that parents have an important part to play in the processing of this information, so it means something to the child and so aids learning.What we need to do instead, is talk about how the apps might be used.

Are they nothing more than a babysitting device or could they be conversation starters? And isn’t it possible they could be babysitters at one point in the day and conversation starters another?

It’s this ratio between noninteraction and interaction that should be part of debates over whether apps are helpful or harmful to babies.

Maybe we should be focussing on what fosters healthy interactions between babies and their caregivers — whether an app is part of the picture or not.

It's also important that the app, dvd or TV content is age appropriate and is at that child's level of learning and understanding.

So hopefully I've removed some guilt about using TV or Apps on iPads etc and as long as there is some interaction with them, then they are good thing. After all, they're here to stay and feature heavily in modern life.

So health professionals and the media need to explain how to use them rather than ban them outright. We need to stop giving parents the guilt factor. We should be finding ways to make modern parenting fun and productive after all it's about the child and what they get from life and experiences. 

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