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Why I gave my Son a Tablet for Learning: a Father’s Confession.

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Vihan was about two when I bought my first tablet, an iPad, so I could use it to catch up on work while on the move. As an Apple aficionado, it was only natural that I chose an iPad and I thought it was just another fancy gadget that I acquired. But what followed the next morning was an eye-opener.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I’m the kind of parent who was always resistant to the idea of my child handling an electronic device at such a tender age. That was until the morning of March 20, 2012 — until I witnessed what a digital device could do for my child. I’m yet to understand how my son managed to switch on the device, unlock it and move the icons around. And I thought he was just a baby!

That day, I learnt something new about the world of possibilities that digitization opens up to toddlers. Now five, my son was instrumental in making me a firm believer in Digital Literacy! A recent research in the University of London, headed by Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith, debunks the earlier myths about the negative effects of digital devices on young children and pushes me further to become an advocate of tablets. Prof Karmiloff-Smith, who believes that the children who have access to tablets will show better signs of development, says, “It is shocking how fast they learn, even faster than adults to do things like scroll up and down the text.”

Conflicting views

I’ve heard arguments both in favor of tablets and also those opposing the idea of children using devices. While the proponents believe that tablets are lighter, easier to carry, and store several hundreds of books, the opponents say they distract students more than engaging them and are expensive compared to the printed books. While I firmly believe that ebooks are cheaper than their printed counterparts and are also environment-friendly, tablets have a tendency to get outdated with each release of a newer version and also cost a bomb to fix any issue.

My wife and I are among those parents who express concern about their child’s screen time. However, in the past three years, we’ve realized that our child spending a lot of time on the screen is inevitable in today’s era, and we believe that it is better if he does it for education rather than entertainment. And with newer technologies and anti-glare screens available in the market, the tablet’s negative impact has been reduced. Despite the objections raised by a section of people that tablets lead to headaches and blurred vision, the 20-20-20 rule proposed by some clinicians that says “after every 20 minutes of screen time, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away” can be applied to keep children’s eyes safe when they are handling digital devices.

Age-appropriate Educational Content

After careful consideration, I thought it better to let my child engage with a tablet than with a television. A tablet or a mobile device holds more potential for a child and makes him/her creative and interactive. However, it’s the responsibility of the parents to ensure that the child has access to age-appropriate educational content. Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, a learning designer for Leapfrog Enterprises, rightly points out, “It’s important to focus on the content and message when making age-appropriate media choices. What children watch and play matters.”

Today, I can think of a hundred things that my iPad has helped my son with. For the benefit of parents who are still hesitant, let me list out some of the ways in which the tablet proved to be advantageous for my son’s progress.

  • Thanks to the tablet, my son learned the alphabet, the numbers, basic math, colors and shapes quickly and with ease.
  • After his admission to school, I’ve never seen Vihan shy away from studies or make excuses to not study.
  • Tablet users would find umpteen apps that are aimed at making difficult concepts in Math like metric conversion, time, distance, money and fractions easy for students.
  • Digital devices act as an extra layer of learning and give children essential tools that a traditional classroom setup cannot provide, thereby helping them learn the concepts better.
  • While reading a printed textbook, a child has found a difficult word and feels stuck. What does s/he do now? If it was an e-reader or a tablet, the meaning of the word can be found immediately either by using the built-in dictionary or by googling it.
  • With some of the best ways of learning on offer, the tablet provides unlimited knowledge children when compared to what is offered by printed textbooks.
  • Children learn things better when they have a chance to interact with the tools and materials used for learning. The touchscreen of a tablet engages with children at a different level keeping up their interest and enthusiasm.
  • A child can understand the scientific concepts or solve mathematical problems very well by accessing the 3D visuals available online on a tablet, which helps them learn things faster than when they read the description in a textbook.
  • While I agree that tablets are expensive at the outset than the textbooks, they tend to be cost-effective in the long term. I would say the longer the use, the better will be the ROI. Tablets don’t usually have recurring costs, unless there’s a major repair, like the printed textbooks which need to be purchased year after year.
  • The market is flooded with a wide range of educational and related activity apps which are mostly available for free. Even the paid apps are quite affordable. You can also teach your child to become environment-friendly by avoiding paper books.
  • One thing I really love about giving my child a tablet is that he can have access to his study materials anytime, anywhere – even when we are travelling or socializing. Actually, I’ve never heard my son making excuses about not being able to complete his homework because of our weekend outing.
  • Children love to learn in their own way and at their own pace. And this kind of individualized or personalized learning is made possible by a tablet, which is especially useful for young kids who find it difficult to focus on the task at hand without getting distracted.
  • Tablets offer a completely different dimension to learning and give children, who are slow in grasping concepts, the liberty to learn with ease, without getting ridiculed by their fast-learning peers.
  • Smartphones and tablets help students connect to the world beyond the traditional classrooms by making their learning relevant. Children who can solve puzzles on a tablet are better prepared to solve real-life problems as well.
  • The only recurring expense I incur due to the use of a tablet is the monthly bill payment towards Wi-Fi network connection. But, in this era, it’s almost impossible to find an educated household without an internet connection.

Still not convinced? Ms. Jackie Kennedy once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” If you can help enlarge your child’s world and worldview via books on a tablet, why shouldn’t you go for it?

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