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Toddlers learn the most from interactive apps

Preschoolers can learn a lot from just a little screen time. But are educational television programs the best forum? What about interactive digital media, like touchscreen apps, with an estimated four million now available to download? A new study explores the science behind parents’ many options.

There are so many “educational” apps, videos and games available, but so little guidance.
“It is all around her, and she is experiencing it more than we had planned,” mom Jaclyn Schneider told Ivanhoe.

“Are there creative ways my child can engage with it?,” asked parent Amy Shannon.
Heather Kirkorian, PhD, a developmental psychologist at the University of Wisconsin and her colleagues reviewed a number of studies to determine if two-year olds would learn best from interactive digital media.

Researchers already knew younger toddlers have a hard time transferring information they’ve only watched on video to a real-life object. But when a child uses an interactive app, it may focus her attention on the object she’s learning about. Kirkorian said a parent or caregiver should also play along.

“Younger children will learn more in any situation if they’re interacting with a more knowledgeable partner, so a parent or teacher or older child,” detailed Kirkorian.

Kirkorian said right now there’s not a lot of research available on interactive media, but parents should choose apps that are simple. Apps with a clear educational or creative goal are best.

Kirkorian continued, “Apps that allow children to play and explore in a semi-structured experience. So maybe allowing them to make choices and try out different ideas and see what happens.”

The researchers say kids with experience using video chat seem to learn more from interactive apps because they know that what they see on the screen also exists in real life.

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