Apps can be digital toys used by children to design, create, build, investigate and imagine. Shutterstock
With Christmas approaching, many of us with preschool children or grandchildren will be considering the purchase of apps for our devices.
We are often portrayed in the media as “bad parents or grandparents” for purchasing apps for young family members. But in fact, appropriate educational apps can prepare children for life in an increasingly digital world where the availability of apps is growing every year.
Concerns about the negative effects of technology are not new. In the past, television, VCR’s, computers, laptops and PlayStation have each been labelled as potential destroyers of the natural order of childhood through media overuse. But the easy availability of apps has made this topic a hot button issue.
The main concern is “screen time”. Sedentary use of digital devices, like TV, computers and iPads, is associated with childhood obesity, poor verbal communication, damaging eyesight, the death of nursery rhymes, or digital addiction.
Apps are often labelled as “digital babysitters”, used to give parents and grandparents a bit of adult time to prepare dinner or answer work emails or even sleep in.
While we acknowledge that extensive and unsupervised use of digital technologies may be harmful, not all screen time is equal in terms of outcomes for children.
For most children in the developed world, apps are a normal, everyday part of their life and will remain so. Apps are not new to young children. They interact with them in different ways to their parents and grandparents. Children use apps as a form of digital play.
The Australian government has invested in developing apps for children in the year before formal schooling under the supervision of a degree-qualified early learning teacher in a preschool service.
These apps are aligned with the Early Years Learning Framework. So, activities are underpinned by nationally-agreed educational policy for young children.
In 2017, the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) program was expanded across Australia with A$15.7 million to include more than 1,800 preschools and 61,000 children. It supports the development of languages other than English through seven apps in seven languages. An independent report pointed to overwhelmingly positive feedback.