It's hopeless. Although I carefully meter out the time my children can spend using my iPad, iPhone or HTC Incredible, my three kids are drawn to the devices like a moth to a flame. Even the four year old knows how to intuitively use the device and a variety of applications on it. And what parent doesn't value a simple way to keep children occupied at a doctors waiting room, restaurant or long trip.
The attractiveness of smart devices for both children and parents is leading many companies to create apps for the IOS (Apple iPhone/iPad operating system) and for Android (Google's mobile operating system). Researchers are studying how parents and children are using the devices. And schools are looking to smart devices as a way to ensure students graduate with tech savvy and to reduce their textbook spending.
In November, PBS published a study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, capturing both the volume of smart device use AND the benefits. For example, the study showed that 2/3 of children between the ages 4-7 have used an iPhone or iPod touch. In fact, it turns out that my method of keeping the peace in the car is shared by many parents - children most often use the devices in the car.
The same study also demonstrated that children made gains in vocabulary comprehension, letter identification and rhyming after using PBS KIDS applications - MARTHA SPEAKS and SUPER WHY!.
Stuart Dredge of the Guardian identifies key trends for children's apps:
voice (Grandma, Mom reading the story), pop-up interactivity (think interactive books), licensed characters (Dora, Barbie, Pokemon) independent characters (Angry Birds), cameras and augmented reality (must get the Monster Scan app he mentioned), digital sandboxes (whiteboard) and education (flashcards, memory joggers, special needs).
The one thing that seems obvious is that the kids use Apps that are fun. My children love Simon Says, Labyrinth, Batter Up, Mastermind, Plants vs. Zombies, Amazon, Scribble and Solitaire (oldie by goodie). They know that they cannot use the iPad without permission and that permission is only granted in the car (after 1 hour of continuous travel), doctors office or weekend morning (provided they have practiced music and are dressed for the day). I'm not convinced any of these games are building academic skills - but they are learning problem solving, persistence and strategy - while having fun. In thirty minute maximum play periods, it seems like there is hope after all.
Article first published as Hands off my iPad: Children and Apps on Technorati.