Toddlers On The iPad: What Works And What Doesn’t For One 22-Month-Old

Toddlers On The iPad: What Works And What Doesn’t For One 22-Month-Old

Are Mobile Devices Key To Our Kids' Futures? Photo by: Oxtopus/Flickr

I’m a reluctant iPad parent who gave my toddler my gadget to play with once. Ever since that one experience, it has become impossible to use it when she’s around without her wanting to monopolize it.

She’s a true addict. She even looks at me weirdly if I put it down somewhere within her vicinity without handing it over to her.

The rest of my family automatically assumes that the iPad is a wonderful learning device, but I flutter between happiness and delight at seeing my daughter so excited, and worry that she’s going to develop attention deficit disorder. So I limit her time on the device, and play along with her when she’s on it.

Given all of this, I read this Editorial Observer piece about children’s e-books on the iPad by New York Times Editorial Board Member Lawrence Downes with a lot of interest.

In it, he wonders:

But does digital interactivity engender mental passivity? As fingers flick and flit, making pixels work harder, what do brain cells do? What, I wonder, does interactivity do for the imagination, as reading a book gets closer and closer to watching television?

He cites various reports, and comes to the conclusion:

In the old death struggle between reading a book and watching the tube, here comes the e-book as a powerful new ally of the written word, a glorious new way to lure children back through the looking glass.

I have found that is not true for my 22-month-old daughter. She’s a complete bookworm, and could look at all her picture books and enjoy being read to all day, if it were an option. She’s bored by e-books.

She’s not really interested in any of the Cat In The Hat e-books, but she does love the old-school versions.

Rather, I’ve noticed that she enjoys things that are truly novel, interactive and make the best use of the iPad’s attributes.

One of her favorite apps is “Animal Fun,” a free app by Brian Pfeil, which presents large photographs of animals, says the name of the animal, and has buttons that allow her to hear the sound that the animal makes. One of the buttons, when pressed, spells the word. One difference between this app and a traditional book is that she gets to choose which animal to look at, and the indexed pictures don’t have to flow in any particular sequence.

Another favorite is “Alphabet,” by Piikea Street, which involves a lot of music, sound, and interactive illustrations. It’s just a beautiful and cool app.

123 Ants by Curious Puppy, Itsy Bitsy Spider and Fish HD, by Duck Duck Moose Design are other favorites. All of them feature a lot of background music.

There are two big differences that distinguish these apps from the e-books.

One is the way the apps use sound, and how they get the toddler to interact with the sound.

The apps I mentioned solicit active engagement with sound from toddlers. In contrast, the e-books offer the option of narrated text, but features the voice of a faceless stranger.

The second is that e-books, in my view, are often just a ported-over medium that don’t make the best use of the iPad’s attributes, and thus there can be a passive television-like quality to them. They’re one-dimensional.

Hard copy books offer more interactivity, in my mind. The toddler can hold the book, turn the pages, and in some cases lift the flaps — in addition to cuddling with and discussing it with the parent.

One of the things that really makes my daughter laugh, but which creeps me out is the cover of the April edition Parent’s magazine. It comes alive when you touch it: The photo of the baby turns into a movie, and starts laughing and giggling. For some reason, I find it spooky. (I found the rest of the debut iPad edition to be excellent, however.)

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  • VetMom

    My 22 month old LOVES my iPad too, and has loved it since I first showed it to him. However, he’s getting startling proficient at using it – he knows how to quit and go find other apps he likes, etc. Some of his favorite apps are AlphaBaby Free, Pocket Frogs even though he doesn’t really know how to use it, Preschool Memory Match, SoundDrop, Zoola, Toddler Teasers Quizzing, Toddler Teasers Shapes, Screen Cleaner, Toy Story 3 Memory Match, Pet the Animals, City Sounds Lite (and related games), various drum kit apps, all the talking critter apps, Baby Farm Lite and Baby Fauna lite (though I find these ones annoying due to the sounds overlapping each other, and there’s an obvious error where the picture of a skunk is labelled a squirrel or chipmunk or something like that), I accidentally let him watch Big Buck Bunny once and he was hooked, Pocket Pond HD, Toy Story Read-Along (which is the closest I’ve found to what I’d like a ebook for toddlers to be, though in my admittedly limited search), and Uzu, which is an awesome app for more than one kid to use at once because it does different things for up to ten touches. Also, a couple of three year olds that we are friends with LOVE the iPad (similar apps) too!

  • cheah

    I dont know how safe is to let small kids play with radiation emitting products like that

  • CalicoAvenger

    Hmm, judging from the first two paragraphs, it seems like the parent needs to assert herself. The child needs to learn that the Mom is the boss. If they are giving in to a toddler’s demands (or feel pressured by a toddler), that does not say much for the amount of discipline in that home.

  • Brian

    “She’s a true addict. She even looks at me weirdly if I put it down somewhere within her vicinity without handing it over to her.”

    That pretty much says it all. Of COURSE kids love iPads. They love anything that reacts to their actions, especially when mom and dad clearly find importance in the gadget (since they use it all the time.) The thing no one seems to notice or want to admit to themselves is that, at a time when their minds are developing incredibly fast every day, you can’t compare what you learn from such a limited but powerful singular device like a computer to what can be learned just from walking around and grabbing stuff, inside, outside, wherever a kid finds themselves. Computers have limited options, whatever was programmed by the programmer. Planet Earth’s options are vast; it’s that infinite combination of possibilities that make life interesting (and scary.) Kids will always prefer the safe, easy-to-figure-out world of computers, but that doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for them. As they get used to an easy to control virtual world, they will grow unable to cope with going through life not having electronic assistance at every turn… and they won’t know what to do with themselves without it. That’s already evident in today’s college students- the last thing we need are even-more immersive devices like the iPad for toddlers.

  • VetMom

    I totally agree, which is why his play-time is VERY limited. However, I also know that he will have ti interact with such devices once he’s older, so I will not keep him completely isolated from him. They are helpful for times when he CAN’T get up and go exploring, such as long car trips and on the rare occasion we go out to eat for social functions. He has to be sitting for a long time in those instances, and gets bored (understandably), so the iPad with educational games is a lot of fun for him, and makes the situation tolerable for him. It has enhanced his learning of shapes and colors, as well as animal names and sounds, and the names and sounds of various other things too. But it’s not like he spends significant periods of time on it. He gets bored with it pretty quickly, and moves on to playing with other things in the room, or asks to go outside and play, etc.

  • CharliK

    Guess you don’t let you kids around microwave ovens, televisions or even out into the sunlight. Radiation is everywhere.

    I would be more worried about fat kids sitting on their butts all day, lack of social kids etc. A child’s brain is said to develop the most fro birth to age 5. During that time they shou,d be exposed to a variety of things like music, drawing, physical games, multiple languages etc. Done in a variety of ways. Limited use of the iPad can be a part of that. A key is not just handing it over, but using it with them for a set limited time,

  • Mozmun20

    I have a 2yo and a 4yo, and I have one word for every parent out there…. NETFLIX!!!!!

  • TowerTone

    First of all-cute kid. Is that yours, Sarah?

    Second, I don’t get all the worry from commenters about time or radiation.
    Obviously you can’t let a toddler run 24-7 with an iPad, but I have found with my grandkids the longer they use it, the more they learn HOW to use it. My three year old grandson even shows his 1.5 year old sister how to do things, and my seven year old grandson works on much more complicated things. This is perfect for bad weather days.

    I have a 4 year old ‘step’ grandson with Asperger’s that loved my iPad 2 so much that I bought him an iPad 1 with an Otterbox. It is amazing what you can teach him to do just so he can play with the iPad, which then helps him learn even more.

    So as long as a child has plenty of outside time, does his chores, and interacts with other kids, I wouldn’t worry about an iPad ‘hurting’ them.

  • LaiStirland

    Hi Faye — she gets supervised time on the device. As I said, I’m ambivalent about the iPad. I didn’t say that she gets access to it whenever she wants. And yes, I’m learning as I go, as I believe most parents do. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sarah.

  • Levo Dextro

    Am I the only one to notice that that incredibly adorable little girl and her iPad are color coordinated???

  • d_n

    e-books, in my view, are often just a ported-over medium that don’t make the best use of the iPad’s attributes, and thus there can be a passive television-like quality to them.

    The Alice in Wonderland and the Tale of Peter Rabbit apps are more interactive than any book could ever be:
    - http://j.mp/alicewonderapp
    - http://j.mp/peter_rabbit

About the author

Sarah Lai Stirland

Sarah Lai Stirland is from the gadget and status-crazed island of Hong Kong, where even sampan drivers enjoy showing off their latest gizmos. Sarah's work has appeared in Congress Daily, National Journal, POLITICO, Portfolio.com, Red Herring, The Village Voice, and Wired.com, among other places. She now lives with her husband, cat and her young gadget-obsessed, button-pushing daughter in San Francisco. Follow Sarah on Twitter at @LaiStirland

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