Kids, Creativity And The iPad

I came across an NYT blog Pogue’s Post about the author’s 6 year old son’s addiction to iPad. Though he states that they do have rules about not having the kids use the iPads on schooldays, his problem was the huge meltdown that happens everytime his son has to stop playing the iPad. The author also has come to question the conventional wisdom of electronic gadgets being harmful to kids since his son is not just playing games but using creative apps that creates cool animated shorts and also music.

Evan’s drawing and writings from school. First drawing is from November before we started our writing exercises at home.
Second drawing is from January, a few weeks after we did our spelling and writing exercise at home. I asked him if his teachers helped him with the spelling and he said no. =) What a marked difference from the 2 months before.
Third drawing is from last week’s. He says that’s me on the bench and him on the slide. I love these drawings and writings! I am also floored at the amount of progress in just a couple of months. Young children catch on so quickly it’d be a pity to have this window of time wasted on meaningless screen time when their brains are like sponges for learning new things.

As an artist, a mom of a 5 year old and somebody who teaches iLife apps I couldn’t help but comment on his blog. I have to come clean, I have strong feelings against video games. I think it is mindless and is a waste of time. But I don’t feel the same way about educational iPod apps. In fact I have a few of those in my iPod Touch which I let Evan play when we are in the restaurants or shopping in the grocery store. I believe these apps are good for rote memory much like educational DVDs are. After all my son mastered the phonics at 1 & 1/2 years old through a DVD.

BUT, but if you want your children to learn something from scratch, there is no app for that. Sure they may know new words, much like a kids’ tv show will teach your children, but if you want to them to learn how to write, how to read and how to add/subtract there is no substitute for teaching them in person. I confess I tried to take the easy way out and had my son practice writing his letters on my iPod with an Tracing Letters app (I hated writing drills as a child and didn’t want my son to go through that), or try prepare him for kindergarten with Teach Me Kindergarten app where he does addition, subtraction and spelling, which he did well while playing the iTouch but in real life? They were entirely useless. Except for getting some peace time while having lunch date with friends for me and entertainment for him.

If my 5 year old can write his letters, add and subtract from his head and spell now it is because everyday we set aside an hour to work on them. Everyday. No shortcuts.

It is the same with creativity. Parents try to assuage their feelings of guilt in having their children play with the iPad for hours by thinking that their kids are getting something out of it. As I’ve said, if they are using apps that exercise rote memory, some apps are helpful. But being creative? I have to ask, how much creativity do they get from doing drop and down of ready made artworks (originally created by another person) to make those animated shorts? Or how much musicality is involved from drag and drop ready-made loops?

As an art teacher, I will say that there is so much more creativity in using paper and scissors, crayons, playing with legos, not to mention the different ways these children are using and exercising their motor skills and imagination. The end products may not have the Oomph factor as those produced by the iPad apps (which, we must remember, are programmed by grown-ups) but for certain spent their time 90% smarter and more productive than their peers playing with the iPad. Imagine those tiny finger muscles sending questions to the brain in how to handle the complexities of holding a pencil, a paint brush, scissors, coloring with a crayons or doing a 2 finger chord on the piano. Compare that to the 2 repetitive motions of an iPad screen: tapping and swiping.

Nothing beats creativity that uses imagination, motor skills (batman’s ears were drawn and cut-out in bond paper) and resourcefulness (using his regular hooded jacket as cape). Nope, there is no app for that!

While just as I strongly believe that it is also beneficial for young children to be exposed to the latest technology and letting them be aware of what’s available to them (I am currently teaching my son Photoshop to wow him with the program), but the next time we hand our children these gadgets think of the total amount of time your child is going to be spending away. As one commenter said, his college age son regrets all the hours he has used up playing video game and wishes he had just played the piano instead or other real world skills that can be used in his life.

So I would say, treat these iPad apps as how you would view tv/DVD watching. They really aren’t that much different. And if your child is like the author’s who has a meltdown everytime the iPad is taken away from him? Sell the iPad on eBay. The stress isn’t worth it and your child won’t be missing anything…intellectually and creatively.

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8 Responses to Kids, Creativity And The iPad

  1. Loraine says:

    Hi Geri, I was contemplating of buying an IPad because of the apps that would be beneficial for Benji. I would like to give him a good start in education. But after reading this, I am having a 2nd thought. Thank you for the input.

    As I noticed, penmanship in young people also suffered greatly probably because nowadays, we don’t need to write as much. As technology advances, we, humans, lose abilities that sustained us for thousands of years. We become dependent on them. It is easier to be dependent.

  2. Ed says:

    Well written and I agree with everything. We have yet to buy a video game system for our daughter but she does use our iPad and iPhones quite often. I feel that not only are the educational games good learning tool while keeping her mind occupied when needed, but even some of the ‘games’ can be educational. My first experience was with Angry Birds. When she started playing that with me, she just shot randomly but soon she learned the ‘rules’ of the birds, their limits and what she could do with them. It was amazing to see how her complex thinking developed with that game. She hasn’t played that one in ages but the next one was with ‘Cut the Rope’. She learned that one without me and I was impressed when I tried out the level she was on, how long it took for me to figure out the ‘rules’. But like you, we limit her playing time mostly so that when we need to keep her entertained for a half hour, we can pull out my iPhone or the iPad and we are good to go. I’m just hoping that it is still awhile before she learns how to download her own apps!

  3. geri says:

    Loraine, if you are buying the iPad solely for the education purposes I would probably rethink that. If for entertainment, if Benj likes to watch movies, a portable DVD is a good investment (and cheaper than the iPad) – we still use ours and it’s 3 years old. Especially since Benj is still so young. An iPad and DVD player are great emergency babysitters but I have noticed if I give Evan too much screentime he gets cranky from being overstimulated and lack of physical exercise (although he seldom watches movies or plays the iPod nowadays because his time is more occupied with reading and leags). The advantage of a movie over an iPad game apps probably is that it is easier to set a time limit because when a movie is over – it’s clear cut. Whereas for games it’s harder to impose time limit because children have no concept of time yet. I would say the cause of meltdown from the said 6 year old in the article is most probably from overstimulation and lacking of the time concept.

    Ed, I most probably won’t ever buy a video game set for Evan. Will try my best to lure him to more productive yet still cool hobbies. Hope he gets the no-interest in video games genes from both Tom and me. I haven’t played Angry Birds (although Evan has in his pre-school omputer class) and have seen Cut The Rope from Evan’s friend. I never downloaded them because we are not really the games type of a person (even when I was younger and Tom said he wasn’t too) unlike my siblings. But I could believe how it does develop strategic kind of thinking based on the games I have played before. You are very good at limiting at half an hour!

  4. Loraine says:

    Hi Geri, Thanks for the info. Benji does not want to watch T.V. for a long time. He can tolerate You Tube but that’s about it. I think I’ll wait on buying into technology…

  5. Ed says:

    I second Geri’s comment about the iPad. My wife has an iPad for work and we both have iPhones for normal cellphone communication reasons with Facetime. On both, we mostly use it for the reasons we bought it but have downloaded some apps for our daughter when she is bored in the car or while we are trying to talk with someone, etc. They both would have been a complete waste of money to buy for child entertainment purposes at least for our daughter. She will play with one for at most a half hour a day (her limit, not mine) before she becomes bored again. I’m not sure if they still make them but an iPod Touch for entertainment of a child might be worth it because they aren’t nearly as pricey and can have most of the same educational games.

    Really the best investment for me has been setting up a shortcut to PBS Kids website on our home computer and showing my daughter how to access it. It was totally free, not counting the cost of the computer which I already had before her, and she loves the educational games on that site.

  6. geri says:

    Ed and Malor, I found this on my feed, thought it would be interesting to both of you too http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2012/03/12/dads-plea-developers-ipad-apps-children/ and by the way I am not the commenter Les hehehe

  7. Ed says:

    Excellent article. I especially agree with the last one of making it so kids can accidentally purchase stuff. My wife ended up with a $9.99 reoccurring charge on her bill for something we never figured out what it was. The phone company took care of the problem by cancelling it and returning the money. But several times I have caught my daughter at the screen where it requires my password to purchase something she touched. Like the dad in the article, I deleted those apps.

  8. Loraine says:

    hi geri, thanks for sharing infos. i became a fan of sofia also after reading her blog. she displayed such maturity in her writing. she’s also funny. she’s every mother’s dream daughter. thanks also for sharing the website for apps. i’ll check on it.

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