Young children and “techno toys”

/ 20 November 2011

There’s a fascinating piece in the Guardian today that writes of the ways in which very young children — toddlers, for instance — engage with electronic devices. In and amongst the typical fears raised about children not getting enough physical learning, were some trenchant observations. For instance:

As you remove the reality," Huggins says, "they just make it up." Freeman says: "I'm always amused by how entertaining my two find playing creatively with cardboard boxes – still wins hands down over a few minutes with the iPhone." As for learning to count, as Wooldridge says, "Your child can push buttons all they want, but without your involvement they're not going to go beyond that."

The point is that kids watch adults, and want to do what they do:

There's no doubt that small children love pressing buttons, looking at bright flashing lights and listening to funny noises, partly for the same reasons that adults do – like rats, we can't help responding to sensory stimuli – but also precisely because adults do. A child will see how rapt her parents are by a mobile phone or computer screen, and imitate their behaviour: these things are clearly interesting, because Mum and Dad can't keep away from them.

I think the piece is a good reminder that we need to “apprentice” our kids into all sorts of practices. Engaging electronic devices is one small piece of that, but far more important are the ways in which we communicate with each other, and the patterns by which we engage silence, not to mention conflict.