‘There’s an app for that’……Anyone who knows me would have heard me use that phrase at some point or other. It crops up in conversations about baking, teaching, work or about life in general. Having studied the way young children learn how to use an iPad, I am not surprised that I am associated with touch-screen technology. It is very common for people look in my direction when they say the words tablet, touch screen or app. I am often greeted with ‘I found a really good app…..’.
There is no doubt that I am passionate about the potential that technology has for children to learn the colours, vocabulary, puzzles, animal sounds, alphabet and songs. There are over 650,000 educational applications available on the iTunes store with thousands of apps are added each week. However, one of my great concerns is that a child is given a tablet, with one of these great applications, and he or she sits alone with no interaction, other than with the machine itself. As a speech and language pathologist I am particularly interested in children’s speech and language development. So here are a few tips that you can use to help your child’s speech and language development when using tablets.
- Turn taking is the root of communication. Turn taking is in everything we do and say. Any app can be shared in this manner. “It’s your turn. It’s my turn.” Some children are possessive over the tablet and do not want to share their screen time with anyone. Using this approach will teach your child that you are not going to take the tablet away from them but you want to have fun using an application together. Taking turns in an application is a perfect opportunity for a parent to model and to label new vocabulary.
- Use age-appropriate applications– Selecting appropriate applications can be overwhelming. You must be careful not to get carried away with downloading too many applications. It is important to read reviews and to explore an app before your child uses it. It is also important to remove the apps that your child is not using.
- Co-viewing– “No single set of television programs, or any other single educational approach, can be expected to produce a substantial effect by itself, unless the experiences are tied to other aspects of the child’s life.” Gerald Lesser (1974). Talk to your child about what you are seeing on the screen. This will help them to make associations with what they are seeing on the screen and with real life experiences.
- Multi-sensory approach- when introducing an app to your child. Use toys, books, real objects and flashcards that are related to the application. This will help them link information to ideas they already know and understand. It will also help them Understand relationships between concepts and store information and store it for later recall.
Child taps a sheep
Adult: “It’s my turn” (adult taps a tiger)
Adult: “tiger. A tiger has stripes on it. A tiger says ‘Roar’. (adult selects to toy tiger and talks about the tiger). Here’s the tiger. A tiger has 4 legs. Now it’s your turn”.
When the activity is finished the adult can show the child a puzzle, book or flashcards of animals. This way you are focusing on the target vocabulary using various approaches.
- Moderate screen time– It is very common for adults to give child a smart-phone or tablet whilst waiting in a queue, travelling in a car, waiting at a restaurant or when whilst doing household chores. This is called ‘The pass-back effect’ and refers to the phenomenon when parents temporarily give their child their smart-phone to induce passivity. Although some screen time can be educational, it’s easy to go overboard. The American Academy of Paediatrics discourages media use by children younger than age 2 and recommends limiting older children’s screen time to no more than one or two hours a day.
Veronica Montanaro is a Speech and Language Pathologist who practices as a Clinical Specialist in Alternative and Augmentative Communication. Ms Montanaro specialised in Language and Communication Impairment in Children at the University of Sheffield. She also addresses seminars for parents and children who benefit from Alternative and Augmentative Communication, carries out training for professionals interested in the area and offers consultancy in language development in young children. She is also a visiting assisting lecturer at the University of Malta.
Lesser, G. S. (1974). Children and television: Lessons from Sesame Street. New York: Random House.