What is the earliest age a child should be exposed to technology?

As an educator, it always amazes me the level of technological proficiency my young students have at this day and age. I see them, whipping out their tablets and smart-phones, zooming in and out of apps, the power of the world in their little hands. But the question is, what is the earliest age a child should be exposed to technology?

To begin answering this question, it is important to understand what is going on in a child’s brain during these early, develop mental years. From birth, a child begins to understand the world around them through their senses. A baby sees their mother or father’s face on a regular basis and naturally understands the dynamics of the relationship.

Baby and his father

A toddler, could touch a hot stove, or be drawn to the smells associated with a favourite food. The senses provide the gateway and stimulus to the world around them.

Mom and her daughter

So what happens when technology is introduced?

Technology introduces a “new” world to the children. As such, it is important to recognize the cognitive building blocks and stages that need to be met in order to achieve a positive outcome in the introduction of technology. In a joint statement conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Early Learning Centre, they suggest that, “There is a develop mental progression in children’s use of tools and materials…Anecdotal evidence suggest that the same progression is evident in the ways that children interact with technology tools. Children need time to explore the functionality of technology before they can be expected to use these tolls to communicate.” (NAEYC, 6)

Family with a tablet outdoor

This suggests then, that exposure to technology to pre-toddler and toddler aged children (1.5-5 years) will enable them to begin forming the building blocks to achieve mastery of the skill. A child, who is able to understand the functionality and purpose of an Ipad or Tablet at an earlier age, would then be able to use these devices for a higher purpose in the future. Apps and games played at a young age have an added benefit. While they are playing memory games, math games or spelling activities, they are slowly but surely working towards mastery of these technological tools.

Naturally, exposure at an early age comes with various risks. In the same study conducted by NEAYC, they warn against, “The appeal of technology and the steady stream of new devices may lead some educators to use technology for technology’s sake, rather than as a means to an end.” (NAEYC 4)

Kids have fun

As such, despite the benefits of exposing children to technology at a young age, it must be done with a clear purpose and with set boundaries. A child must be given the opportunity to sense the entirety of the world around them and not just the feel of a touch screen.

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