As parents of the digital generation we are constantly inundated with reports about the perils of allowing our children free reign and access to the World Wide Web. In addition to this, a recent report by US pressure group Common Sense Media revealed that nearly a third of children learn to use a mobile phone or tablet before they learn to talk. These issues raise questions regarding the amount of screen time and freedom we should allow our children and begs the question - is there a growing reliance on tablets as virtual babysitters?
As the parent of a lively three year old with more than a slight penchant for the iPad, I know only too well how difficult it can be to limit our children's usage. On a long car journey there is only so much singing of nursery rhymes and games of 'I spy' before my daughter is screeching for the iPad, wanting more immediate and tactile entertainment. However, we can harness this interest and ease of accessibility to our advantage. Realistically, and let's be honest, there will be times when we hand over the device as a distraction technique. But the use of digital games by our children can reap educational and developmental benefits and if used in moderation, parents can feel relatively guilt free. As adults we're told a glass of red wine a day is healthy - so it seems 'everything in moderation' is key for both ourselves and our children.
Digital games can provide the perfect opportunity for collaborative play. By playing mobile or desktop games together, you are able to vet games for suitability from an educational, age relevance and enjoyment perspective - so that on those occasions when you do allow your child to play alone you'll feel more comfortable about their online safety and content in the knowledge that they are also gaining an educational benefit from their digital playtime.
When was the last time an educational professional gave you advice and guidance specific to your child's needs...while on a long car journey or in a supermarket queue? Many of the games by CBeebies or Sesame Workshop for example have been developed with the involvement of educational consultants, allowing you to choose games specifically targeted to your child's developmental needs. Online games and apps provide a valuable resource parents can tap into, providing fun and quality educational tools for your child.
There is great educational value to be gained in repetitive gameplay, where concepts and patterns of learning are repeated. Sesame Streets Elmo Loves 123 app is a great example of this and uses repetitive play to recognise and memorise numbers. You may find that your child has a favourite game they want to play over and over just as they may have a favourite TV programme (Peppa Pig jumping in muddy puddles for the fifth time in one day anyone?). Allow them to repeat play - they will let you know when they no longer find a game challenging or enjoyable at which point there are plenty more interactive experiences for you and your child to choose from together.
Still feeling a tad guilty about allowing digital play? Build on the sessions by applying their online learning to offline activities creating a synergy between the two. Face painting, jigsaws, colouring in, counting and matching pairs games can all be linked to your child's online learning. This helps create a balance between online / offline activities and ensures the focus of fun and playtime is not entirely digital based. Why not check out the Cbeebies site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/tee-and-mo and road test our latest series of online dual play experiences featuring Tee & Mo?