It’s so easy to fall into the trap of providing more and more screen-based activities for young children to engage with because screens are convenient, mobile, make no mess and children shut up, sit still and stop nagging when engaging with them. However, when it comes to early learning we need to keep it real.

Teachers increasingly observe children between the ages of 4 and 7 who are able to do a 100-piece puzzle on a tablet / iPad but cannot build one in real life; children who can problem solve and create beautiful works of art and constructions on a screen, who fall apart in the classroom because they have no real spatial planning ability having not had enough exposure to real toys and play experiences with building blocks, construction toys, sorting, matching, stacking, threading, shapes, and more. These fundamental school readiness skills need to be experienced through the senses in real life in order to develop fully.

Children are multi-sensory beings, first and foremost, and they take in information from their environment through all their senses. This means making a conscious effort to provide under sevens with as many off-screen learning experiences as possible. On-screen experiences primarily stimulate the visual and auditory senses only, providing insufficient stimulation for a child to map their world, limiting their ability to create meaning and understanding for themselves which is the object of learning, after all.

Children need to move in order to learn (from birth right through to Grade 7), because the body is the architect of the brain – it’s how early learning works.

  • Children need concrete learning experiences by interacting with real games and toys, with real people who respond to them, touch them, connect and communicate with them. Children need all their senses stimulated.
  • Seeing pictures on a page or screen is a semi-concrete learning experience and symbols such as numbers, dots and letters are an abstract form of learning. Children’s brains are so remarkable that they are learning in the concrete, semi-concrete and abstract phases all at the same time all the time, but they need far more concrete experiences (real) so that the latter two make sense to them.
  • Children need a strong visual system which means exercising the focal depth which cannot happen when the distance between the eyes and a screen never changes. Encourage children to climb jungle gyms, play catchers and hit or kick balls. Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions.

Watching something or doing activities on a screen is no substitute for the real thing, but it can be a wonderful reinforcement of what a child has already seen and experienced in real life. That is the place for a screen in a young child’s life – not to replace but to reinforce. Young children need more laps and fewer apps. Keep it real and watch your child blossom in every way.

NIKKI BUSH   Creative parenting expert, inspirational speaker and co-author of Tech-Savvy Parenting (Bookstorm, 2014), Future-proof Your Child (Penguin, 2008), and Easy Answers to Awkward Questions (Metz Press, 2009)

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