* Note: If you are a judgmental Piece of Shtink about kids and technology, just don't read this.
There is a whole debate on whether toddlers should be allowed to handle digital technology at such a young age. Before I had a kid, I was so sure my child will not touch a smartphone or a tablet until he is 6 years old. And then I had a kid. Reality hit like a ton of bricks and I realized that it is extremely difficult to avoid technology altogether. In fact, in many occasions, it was an actual sanity saver, and often, a reliable way of providing a temporary distraction for my son long enough to ward off a tantrum in an impossible situation.
I know there are a lot of research on the matter proving how too much technology could hurt a child’s brain (check this one and this too). But there is also ample research proving that technology in moderation can actually fast track a child’s learning (essential reading here and here). While I found people who also say “Who the eff knows?” read here and here.
I do remember that when we were kids, the “evil device” was the television, and then it became the Tamagotchi, and then it became brick games, until it became MTV. Sure, it has changed our generation in ways we cannot measure, but it has also helped us adapt to the world as it evolved swiftly from underneath our feet. Just like moderation in what we eat and what we indulge in is key to healthy living, I stand firm that moderate use of technology also helps in balancing the growth of your child. That is why I let my son use gadgets as part of his learning process. It’s highly supervised and involves limited use of gadgets, so please Calm the F down.
I tend to get obsessive about pre-screening the apps I let my child access (which is my excuse why I play them before I give it to my kid). I decided that I will only employ the use of a number of apps at a time, and make sure that I am giving it to my child at the appropriate stage in his development. Some of the things I look for at his current age of 28 months include:
Interaction and movement – most of my child’s apps needs him to engage with the program. I check if the cause and effect is clearly depicted (i.e. if you tap an animal it will make a sound as opposed to some other movement my son is too young to connect with the action)
Self-Correcting – I like it when the app will not allow just anything to happen (like a puzzle that can just fall anywhere). Self-correction helps my son develop clearer cause and effect and the correct answers if any.
No pesky ads – I hate ads that pop up when my son is just about to tap away. It can even result to an accidental download of an unwanted app which may be bad for your tablet or smartphone. When practical, I pay to remove the ads, and I like it when they make sure it’s only the parents who can buy anything from the app.
Simple and clear – I have seen apps whose main intent is to throw so many things at the screen with everything happening at the same time a child can barely understand where to look. I have reason to believe that this is not helping them create the neural pathways needed to make connections with what is happening. May even be cause for them to have shorter attention spans.
With these factors clearly outlined, I would like to share with you the top 7 apps I use right now with my 2 years and 5 month old son.
Peekaboo Barn by Night & Day Studios
My son is wild about animals, and this app may have been the trigger. It’s simple enough to play: you will hear an animal sound the child would have to guess, tap the barn door and the animal will be revealed along with a child saying the answer (in British). It goes on for about 2 minutes or so, enough for a small distraction when you’re trying to avoid a meltdown, or while waiting for the food at a restaurant. Short enough that I let him play it twice before I offer another mode of entertainment, like his markers and drawing pad.
Dr. Seuss’ ABC by Oceanhouse Media
This one takes about a good 6 minutes or so, depending on how engrossed your child is with the rhymes. At this point, it’s still all gobbledygook to my son, but I think he enjoys the moving illustrations and the cadence of the rhymes being read aloud. One round of this is usually enough for my child and can easily be led into another activity afterwards.
4 by Boynton by Moo Media
Sandra Boynton is a great children’s book author and she has written dozens of silly, funny stories. Her more popular stories are now available as interactive books on both Android and IOS. The titles include: a) The Going to Bed Book, b) Blue Hat, Green Hat, c) Barnyard Dance, and d) Moo, Baa, Lalala. My son loves the Barnyard Dance the best.
The Bedtime Book: Nighty Night by Fox & Sheep
After a while, my son became fascinated by turning on and off the lights. This interactive book builds on that weird fascination and drives him to glee. The task is to turn off all the lights in the farm, and you have to be clever about finding where the light switches are. I only showed this to my son once, and he did it on his own ever since. It’s a great game to play when I am trying to calm him down, because it’s a quiet interactive book with a soothing narrator and animals making sounds of sleep. I don’t actually let him use any apps before bedtime, but it might work for others.
Coloring Farm (Touch to Color) by Pre-K Games
He has actually outgrown this in the 3 months he had been playing it. Initially, the child is encouraged to tap the different areas of the screen to color it. There will be some piggies and chicks popping up here and there which my son used to welcome with giggles. But he has mastered all the pages by now, and has moved on to the puzzle matching game (matching the shape with the animal). Once successfully completed, a pig in shades will congratulate your kid. My son would always look up at me and clap once he has accomplished this. Adorable.
Talking Ginger by Outfit7
This app I only use at very specific times of the day --- toothbrush time. The app’s whole concept is you will give the cat a bath, dry her off and brush her teeth. There are some mini games that concerns a toilet paper roll, and more amusingly, mimics what you say in a tiny voice. You can also pat the cat which will make her purr, or tickle her feet which would ensue fits of hysterics. More importantly, it has a toothbrush timer set for 2 minutes to let your child know how long he should brush. Every time we brush our teeth, my son would tap the timer and he would let us brush his teeth in peace. It used to be a very different story before this app --- one that involves wrestling and bitten, bloody fingers for Mommy. This app saved me. Plus: My son loves grinning along with Ginger the Cat after the brush. Caveat: it has very pesky ads I cannot seem to pay to go away. But since I only let him use this when brushing his teeth, it is not much of a pain in the neck.
I don’t let my son watch TV (his grandma though is another matter). But I do stream pre-selected cartoons and nursery rhymes via our Chromecast. Youtube is my go-to app in finding our standards: Little Baby Bum, ABC Kids TV, Dave and Ava and various animal names and sounds videos. Youtube Kids is for when he is allowed to touch the tablet, thus ensuring he won’t accidentally pull up dodgy videos hiding under cutesy visuals. If we are casting it on our TV, I use my regular account where I have already created playlists specific to my son’s interests.
Again, I will emphasize that moderation is key. I have made the mistake of letting my son watch Youtube for too long and I did see how more fidgety he got. That is why my husband and I have started enforcing the no TV rule in the bedroom, and limited gadget use when outside. We only pull the tablet out when all else fails, and I do come prepared with a lot of options when we go out.
I will be discussing with you why I recommend making busy bags for your kids instead of resorting to gadget use when outside in my next post. But I am a modern mom who knows how it feels to be at the chasm of a huge toddler meltdown and I will never judge another mom who opts to let her child hold a gadget for a while. Because if it wasn’t for the gadget, then it would be you having a meltdown, and to take care of your child you have to be sane. So put away the mom-guilt for what would be a few minutes of your kid on tech and take the breather. Then when you’ve composed yourself, hide the gadget and play with your child. No toddler will say no to Mom and Me time.
Smell ya later,