The Intuitive Nature of the iPad for Toddlers

Arguably, the iPad is the greatest invention of our time.  It is revolutionizing the way we live, learn, work and play.  And our kids, from a very young age, are exposed to technology with seemingly effortless mastery, as anyone that has witnessed a two year old pick up a hand held device and operate it with the ease of an engineer, can attest.   Why do kids intuitively seem to understand these technologies, have they been “hardwired” differently than generations before them, or is it a natural progression of learning?  Are iPad’s the developmental equivalent of building blocks and toy trains?

Partially, at least, the skills needed to interact with the iPad mimic the developmentally appropriate skills a young child uses on a daily basis. The size of the iPad device is comfortable to hold as it’s not too big or too small, and it is very light weight, portable, and most importantly, durable. It is about the size of an adult’s face which children are naturally tuned in to focusing on to get information. The iPad has a few simple buttons and young children understand the cause and effect nature behind buttons. After they turn it on, they begin to visually scan the different icons, or pictures, that represent the applications, or the “apps”. Young children often visually scan when they enter a room either looking for a preferred toy, a family member or friend. They also are able to understand picture and symbolic representation, which is how they identify a movie by only looking only at the DVD’s cover, or understand that a big red dot with white and red circles around it represents the Target store.

If they can’t find what they are looking for on one page, they swipe the page away, as if to push away what they don’t want or are no longer interested in, which toddlers are accustomed to doing with items, such as food, toys, or pets. When they do find the page they are interested in, they have to then point to the app icon they want, which is a natural way for a child to choose something. This is followed by touching or tapping the app to open it, supporting how a child learns by exploring through his sense of touch.

Once the app is open there is the reward of an activity in the form of a game that often includes fun catchy music that is continuously looped, making it enjoyable and memorable. And regardless of the app they chose, the interaction involves only a few fine motor movements including tapping, swiping, holding, flicking, dragging, and releasing. This consistent nature of all the iPad apps allows the child to explore a wide variety of apps by transferring these few motor skills across all of them. This leads to the final reason a young child navigates the iPad so seamlessly. The consistency and predictability behind the iPad and its apps speaks to a young child’s love for repetition, either in the stories they hear, or the music they listen to, or the peek-a-boo game they love to play.

            So I support young children being exposed to the Apple’s iDevices, such as the iPhone, the iPod Touch, or the iPad, knowing that the skills needed to effectively learn from the apps are developmentally appropriate and intuitive.

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