Jessica Restivo

TODDLERS OR TECHNOLOGY: WHICH COMES FIRST?

Many adults would agree that their lives incorporate some use of technology on a daily basis. Whether it’s checking a Facebook account, utilizing the computer at work, or using a cellphone, digital technology seems to be a continuous distraction. However, the overuse of digital technology hinders the growth and development of young children. Computers, television, and cell phones limit the progress of a child’s social skills, values, cognitive development, sensory development, and motor development. Conventional play needs to be incorporated into a child’s everyday life in order to stimulate these fundamentals.

Play contributes to a healthy childhood. Its creative nature allows a child’s mind to go beyond the boundaries of a glowing screen. While playing a game on the computer, one is essentially following a set of rules that someone else has produced. In fact, research shows that the more time young children spend with screens, the less time they spend engaged in the kind of play known to be essential to development and learning (Linn). Active play, other the other hand, develops a child’s motor skills and brain development.

Research conducted at Dimensions Early Education Program in Lincoln, Nebraska has shown profound evidence of the link between play and learning. Dimensions Early Education Program is an educational research foundation that urges educators and families to allow their children to connect with the world around them. This will contribute to a child’s learning process. Dimensions created an outdoor space for children to learn. The teachers are also researchers who observe their students actively in this unique outdoor classroom. In a 2008 study, Kade, a five-year-old boy, spent his time outside searching for “bones.” He used his imagination to turn a bucket and sticks into a deep investigation where he uncovered the remains of various animals. For example, he pulled out one of the sticks and confidently proclaimed it to be a tooth from a “saber-tooth cat” (Miller).

Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, childhood development expert and author of Taking Back Childhood, stresses “the need for young children to manipulate objects physically, engage all their senses, and move and interact with the 3-dimensional world. This is what maximizes their learning and brain development” (Strauss). Carlsson-Paige explains that an activity through a handheld device does not utilize all the senses that more active play typically entails. While sitting in front of a screen can be a form of occasional entertainment, such play should never substitute for more physical activities.

Technology may also put at risk the development of a child’s ability to process information and develop relationships. Human interaction, though not necessarily a form of active play, shapes us more than many realize. Parents need to spend time with their children rather than leave them in front of a computer screen. Experts recommend that it is in a child’s best interest to receive between “three to four hours a day” of human interaction (Hatch). Dr. Ashley Montagu observes that the lack of this type of interaction will have real effects: “infants that are deprived of this amount of human touch and play exhibit more agitation and anxiety, and may become depressed in early childhood” (Hatch).

Digital technology can also lessen one’s ability to multitask. Technology provides a  never ending interruption in our lives. These distractions affect the way children’s developing brains absorb new information, and can lead to continuous partial attention (Hatch). Linda Stone, former Microsoft executive, claims that, “CPA is the state we enter into when we are using technology and are forced to split our attention between several different tasks” (Hatch).

Sarah Chumsky, vice president at Insight Strategy Group, a research and consulting firm that specializes in products for children disputes the mindset that condemns technology as an alternative for active play. Chumsky boldly states, “Technology is here to stay. If you have a problem with how it’s being used (or overused), then seek solutions that offer safe outdoor play options for all children. In the meantime, appreciate digital entertainment for the benefits it offers” (Chumsky). It is true that the use of technology in schools can make learning more interactive, can engage a student’s full attention, and can develop skills. For example, after examining over fifty studies on the effects of technology on youth, Dr. Patricia Greenfield of UCLA has found an increase in children’s visual reasoning skills over the past fifty years (Kim).

Although digital technology does have positive aspects, technology has its limits.  Digital technology may help a teacher to engage students’ attention, but is this attention masked by distraction? Many students associate technology with entertainment and enjoyment, and presenting a classroom filled with technologically programmed students with a glowing screen may just divert their mindset from focused to dreamy. I accept Chumsky’s point that technology is here to stay, and I also understand that moderation—not the elimination of technology—is the point. However, one should never confuse moderation with substitution. Teachers may find it useful to support their lessons with technological tools, but I feel that this is as far as it should go. Social skills must be implemented in the classroom as much as possible. This will create a comfortable learning environment, which will in turn, allow a child to grow.

Children have access to a wide range of digital material, so when does it become too much? Parents must be involved in observing how their children are using digital technology and regulate such use. Traditional play is just as important as to a child’s development as balanced nutrition. Human interaction and play will never be outdated. I warn all you technologically-fueled parents to put your cellphones down and realize you must interact with your children. They crave your personal attention more than any form of digital technology.

Works Cited

Chumsky, Sarah. Letter. “Letters; Sunday Dialogue: How Children Play.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 20 June 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.

Hatch, Kristina E. “Determining the Effects of Technology on Children.” Senior Honors Projects. Digital Commons. The University of Rhode Island, May 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2012.

Kim, Paul. “Technology in Education: Hurts or Helps?” The International Examiner. Iexaminer.org, Sept. 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.

Linn, Susan. Letter. “Letters; Sunday Dialogue: How Children Play.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 20 June 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.

Miller, Dana L, Kathy Tichota and Joyce White. (2009). “Young Children Learn Through Authentic Play in a Nature Explore Classroom: A White Paper Based on Research Conducted at Dimensions Early Education Programs in Lincoln, NE.” Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, 2009. Web. 12 Oct. 2012.

Strauss, Valerie, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige. “Is Technology Sapping Children’s Creativity?” Washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 17 Sept. 2012.