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4 Things to consider before letting your preschooler use a tablet

Posted on November 18, 2015 at 6:00 am

By Gwendolyn Haley

4 things to consider before letting your preschooler use a tablet By Gwendolyn Haley | Spokane County Library District

I admit it was a rookie mistake. I had just upgraded my smartphone but all the apps were still loaded on my old phone. I thought my then 5-year-old would enjoy playing some of her games on it during a family car trip. After putting it in airplane mode, I passed the phone back and she happily played for a good 15 minutes before she managed to lock up the screen. Rather than ask her big sister for help, she just kept pushing buttons on the screen. After so many failed attempts to access the phone, I can retry my password in about 1,467,987 minutes (or three years).

Now I’m more careful about letting her play with tablets and phones, not just to protect my investment, but also because I spent time looking into the best practices around electronic media and young children. It turns out, HOW we interact with our children and media is as important as WHAT media we consume. As the holidays approach, if you’re thinking about whether a tablet or other electronic media device is a smart investment for your family and young child, there’s a few things you might want to consider.

1) How old is your child?

If your kids are under the age of two, give the electronic screens a pass. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no media time for children under the age of two. Children that age benefit the most from human interaction. May I suggest blocks and books for this group?

2) Think about WHY you are providing access to a tablet.

Are you looking for entertainment or education? Every parent knows that there are times when letting your child play with your device will allow you to finish a phone call, make dinner, or have an uninterrupted conversation. For children between the ages of 3-5, the AAP recommends limited media time and that families create a media use plan to guide their children’s consumption. Having a family media use plan will help you decide when it’s better to say no to screen time and when to say yes. Long car trips, anyone?

3) Young children benefit most from electronic media, even educational media, when an adult is interacting with them.

Look for games where your child can both manage to run it themselves, but also where you can either play together or talk about it while they play to provide some context and help. One of our favorite apps for this is Toca Tea Party. Just like it sounds, it’s a virtual tea party. Your child and guests (real or imaginary) select a table setting, treats, and even music. Then they take turns pouring and eating. The mess is all virtual and clean-up is a breeze! An app like this facilitates creative play, as well as burgeoning social skills.

The best apps for kids in the 3-5 age range allow them to explore and navigate with minimal direction. Avoid the skill-and-drill type games that are really just electronic flashcards. By exploring the app with your child, you’ll have a better sense of whether it’s appropriate for their stage of development, and also whether or not it’s any fun. We’ve also really loved The Monster at the End of This Book app, which takes the classic book from my childhood— featuring Grover of Sesame Street—and turns it into a truly charming interactive adventure.

4) Young children love to push buttons (not just yours!), so look for apps that allow children to quickly move into the activity.

I’ve reviewed apps and tablets where the menu is almost more engaging than the actual game! Apps that have too many options, or where children can too easily get into the parents’ menu, can be frustrating for both of you. Apps that have ad pop-ups or continually offer additional levels or features for more money are also a big disappointment.

If you’d like to try out a tablet with your preschooler, to see if it’s something you’d both enjoy, we have tablets available for in-library checkout at all of our locations. Stop by to take one for a test run!

Gwendolyn Haley

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