Today’s digital age can be confusing enough for us grown-ups. How best can we help our little ones thrive in a smart nation without depriving them of the childhood they deserve?

Even as we contend with ‘fake news’ on the internet, virtual scams via WhatsApp and other pitfalls of the digital age, we know that we can’t return to those simpler times the older generations reminisce about. So, to prepare the next generation for the smart nation we live in, should we expose our children to gadgets such as smartphones, tablets and laptops from a young age? We invited Mrs Dianne Swee-Seet, ECDA Fellow and Principal of Ascension Kindergarten, to share her opinions on this.


Changing (Play) Times

One of the most distinct differences between children today and those from previous generations is how differently they play. Mrs Swee-Seet agrees. According to her, play has become more self-centred.

“With each child owning their own gadgets, they decide on their own what they would like to do, for how long and even when they think is a good time to so. This is a risk as once gadgets become a norm in a child’s life, they will no longer see a need to have meaningful social interactions. Children are thus deprived of opportunities to nurture essential life skills.”

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What is her advice to parents? “Gadget-free play dates have become even more important. For children below six, parents are primarily still in control of their child’s schedule. I would encourage them to organise more of these golden moments of play for them. Going outdoors to take in nature’s beauty can also be a good parent-child bonding activity.”

“Once children know that there is more fun outside, they are less likely to want gadgets to keep them entertained. Create opportunities to spend one-on-one quality time to read stories together and talk about the day’s events,” she suggests.

(See also: 8 Educational Indoor Playgrounds where Kids can Learn Through Play)

The Golden Ratio

So is there a golden ratio in balancing online and offline experiences? “There are three aspects about the impact of gadgets that are clear for me,” explains Mrs Swee-Seet, “the child’s development, well-being and their values. No two children are the same but adhere to these guiding principles and everything else will fall into place.”

smart nation - goldenSource

“Thankfully,” she continues, “parents now are more well-read and better able to discern what is good for their child. But that said, there is a fine balance between what they know and what is practical.”

She offers her own experience as a mother of three teenagers. “I went through the ‘gadget battle’ with doting grandparents when my children were younger. It is easy to turn to gadgets to distract the child, but caregivers must first understand the rationale behind how gadgets can impact a child’s holistic development. Have a chat with grandparents and rein them in on what your take is. This way, all parties caring for the child can establish a common understanding on what the right balance is.”

I would advise against allowing children to use gadgets before bedtime, as it is bad for eyesight in the long-term. Families can also practise a strict no-gadgets rule at the dining table, and that includes the adults as well. The dining table is where family-bonding time takes place, where conversations flow, experiences are shared, and problems talked through. It is important to learn how to be present at mealtimes.

smart nation - ipad

‘Golden rules’ aside, Mrs Swee-Seet offers this age-by-stage guide on how much exposure to gadgets is acceptable for young children:

18-36 Months

At this age, children thrive on social interactions. These interactions may be between parent and child or among peers. They allow them to make sense of the world around them and learn good values like focus, self-control and communication. Interactions should be reciprocal for these values to be inculcated. Positive role-modelling is essential as children learn by observing.

Gadgets should be sparingly used only temporarily to occupy and ensure the safety of children. The choice of programmes is important as well as facilitation by adults. Look for programmes that are interactive and require the child to respond by touching certain parts of the screen. Puzzle games and picture search games like “Where’s Wally?” are some suggestions. Engage your child in conversation as they play.

(See also: How to Handle Your Child’s Usage of Mobile Apps)

3-4 Years

Nursery-age children love listening to stories and they will also start to make sense of the pictures they see. Assuming the child is frequently read to at a young age, they are able to associate pictures to stories. As such, programmes should include stories with simple questions that the children can answer by touching the screen.

That said, research has suggested that children as young as four years old can successfully build and programme simple robotics projects. While learning a range of engineering and robotics concepts, they’re also developing cognitive and language skills. Gadgets can indeed introduce the fascinating world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to children. However, it is recommended that they get no more than a total of 30 minutes of screen time a day.

(See also: Get your Kid to Disconnect from that Gadget!)

5-6 Years

This is an important age for children as they start to learn social interaction skills. Gadgets can be used to facilitate this to some extent. By ensuring that their screen time is not excessive, this will help to prevent the child from being too easily distracted, inculcate the value of being able to delay gratification and have enough self-regulation to know when the right time to be quiet or active is.

At preschool, their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills can be honed and enhanced using gadgets. It is also important to highlight that at this age, when children do engage in programming and coding games, it should be done together with peers. This will help them learn how to work with others. As for screen time, a general guideline would be no more than one hour daily for this age group. Also, an adult should always be present to engage children on what’s on the screen.

In today’s smart nation, gadgets will always be in our children’s lives. The way in which we harness it to benefit our children is in our hands. It helps to be involved to leverage better on the benefits of gadgets to help your child’s holistic development. However, nothing beats the face-to-face communication!

Preschools in a Smart Nation

smart nation - preschool

Speaking of STEM learning, what are some innovative ways preschools in Singapore are using technology positively? According to Mrs Swee-Seet, robotics is offered at Ascension Kindergarten.

“The children learn how to use codes to direct a robot from point A to B, for instance. As easy as it may sound, there are many takeaways for the children. They learn how to work in a team to carefully consider the different outcomes of the project on a tablet. It nurtures their problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, observation, communication, and supports brain development,” she explains.

(See also: Why STEM is Important for Children in Singapore Right Now)

Ms Joanne Chuan, Mentor at Ascension Kindergarten, shares her experiences in the classroom: “I see children in robotic lessons taking in instructions, executing them and working on solutions with a friend. These solutions do not come easily. It takes time for the children to learn how to take turns and share ideas before they can agree with one another. When used appropriately without compromising hands-on experiences and play, I believe that gadgets are a good means by which to enhance a child’s learning.”

“And there’s more,” adds Mrs Swee-Seet. “Tech also allows the teachers to better monitor how well each child takes instructions, as their activities are logged onto the tablet they use. It also provides more communication channels that preschool educators and parents can leverage on. This fosters a closer relationship between preschool educators and parents, allowing parents to carry on the conversation with their child at home and enhance what they learn at school.”

smart nation - sharing artSource

Mrs Swee-Seet has this bonus suggestion for parents: “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky tells us succinctly what is important in our endeavour to provide the best for our children. These life skills include focus and self-control, perspective-taking, communicating, making connections, critical-thinking, taking on challenges and engaged learning. With that, it should help parents discern and navigate the journey of parenthood.”

(See also: Kelongs around Singapore for a Low-tech No-screen Device-free Family Getaway)

Learn More

Mums, dads, children and grandparents are also invited to the annual ECDA Early Childhood Exhibition 2018 on 5 and 6 October for a fun-filled and interactive educational experience. The Exhibition will be running parallel to the ECDA Early Childhood Conference 2018, themed Nurturing Young Minds: Building Strong Foundations. At the Exhibition, families can meet trained early childhood professionals and community partners to find out how to further support their children’s learning and holistic development – from technology and innovation, creativity, to language and play. They can pick up practical tips and innovative ideas to cultivate positive values and character building in your children. At the Central Stage, families will be treated to an exciting array of interactive programmes and performances. There will also be free goodies and fun activities for the family such as face painting, photo booth and popcorn!

 

Header image: Sarah Pflug from Burst