Lets face it, Computer and tablet use in children is unstoppable and is on the rise, As parents you will read about screen time and it’s negative effects until your eyes bleed. That said, there are ways that screens can be used to aid and promote learning. Over the course of the next few weeks I will look at screen time and attempt to help you make the right choices, for your little ones.

 To aid learning you need the right sort of screen time. Before we start it is important to know that lumping all screens into one category is not helpful. “Screen time is usually described as the number of hours a day using screen-based technology. ” According to Pete scenarios at Bath Spa University, UK, who studies the effects of video games on behaviour. “It doesn’t say anything about what you’re using that (screen) time for.” When you separate the different types of screen out, the effects start to vary. Passively watching TV is not the same as learning to read on a touchscreen, which is not the same as killing monsters on a console. For example, a recent longitudinal study  of 11,000 British children found that those who watched TV for 3 hours or more a day at age 5 had a small increase in behavioural problems two years later compared with those who watched for under an hour. But they found no effects at all for those who played computer games.

Learning from watching. “Children will learn from what they watch, whether that means learning letters and numbers, slapstick humour or aggressive behaviour,” says Heather Kirkorian who studies cognitive development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, adding that children who watch age-appropriate, educational TV programmes often do better on tests of school readiness.

The rise of portable devices has compounded the issue. According to one study 40 per cent of children aged 8 and younger in the US had tablets in their homes in 2013 compared to 8 per cent in 2011. Rosie Flewitt who studies Early Years and Primary Education at the Institute of Education in London says touch screens are particularly motivating for children, allowing them to use a tool they can see as important to adults. “There is an unquestionable body of research showing that new technologies can engage children,” she says. Her studies have shown that children who struggle to learn using books often made more progress with iPads.

Motivation from Feedback Flewitt’s research in schools also found that iPads made children more cooperative and helped quieter kids to speak up. She thinks that is partly because children receive immediate feedback, and because the devices are multimedia. “You don’t need to be able to read words to access knowledge – you can follow icons and hear words spoken,” she says.

A survey of more than 1000 parents with children aged 3 to 5 and their teachers, out this month, backs up the idea that tablets can promote learning. The study found that all the children enjoy reading more when they look at stories using books and a touchscreen compared to just books. I too am finding this more and more with kids in clinic, who will refuse to read books, but will engage in the same story when in tablet format.

Learning simulations. Pilots, soldiers, and surgeons have been using simulation games for an eternity. These games are available on tablet devices, In these cases playing is not all about distraction and procrastination, games can really inspire creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Using social situation apps, for example ‘my play home” and “my play home school”, children can practice language and different social senarios in a no pressure setting.

What is becoming clear is that it’s not the technologies themselves we should be worried out but how they are used and how people interact with them. The advantages seen in the school environment can be translated into the home – if you choose your children’s digital distraction wisely.

A lot of it is common sense. Don’t unthinkingly hand over your device.