iPads can be useful learning tools for younger children – aged 2 to 6. This is the conclusion of a study, iPlay, iLearn, iGrow, just published by Dr Nicola Yelland, Professor of Education at Victoria University in Melbourne.
Professor Yelland’s study looked at 61 apps suitable for children aged 2 to 6 years. She and her research team assessed the Apps in 4 categories:
In each of these categories, a number of specific skills were assessed, for example:
- Literacy: phonics, sounds & letter recognition (2-3 year olds); words & reading (4 y.o); reading (5-6 y.o)
- Numeracy: counting & matching (2-3 y.o); sorting/classifying (4 y.o); spatial (5-6 y.o);
- Creative: drawing & colouring (2-3 y.o); story making & design (4 y.o); scene making 2-6 y.o)
- Skills: fine motor & time limit (2-6 y.o.).
iPad Apps only
Prof Yellen restricted the research to iPads, and not other tablet devices because most apps available for young children are on iPads. In fact this extends to education apps for all ages – there are more than 80,000 apps in the Apple App Store that are described as "educational".
Her research involved 95 children who were observed using the Apps in a Mothers Group (2-3 y.o), a Kindergarten (4 y.o) and in Prep classes in a school (5-6 y.o).
Main findings by age group
The benefits of iPads use for early learning, summarised in the study were:
2 - 3 year olds (Mothers Group)
The tablets created learning contexts that encouraged interactions and collaborations between children, opportunities for them to converse with adults to increase their language and vocabulary skills, and to build the foundation skills (e.g. sorting, matching, classifying).
4 year olds (Kindergarten)
Playing on the tablet was a stimulus for conversations, a source of collaborations and a location for social encounters. The tablets were successfully integrated into a play-based program, providing opportunities for choice and self-regulation of activities. There was a glimpse of the potential of the tablets to be a resource for reflection, investigations and documentation of lived experiences.
5 -6 year olds (Preparatory class)
The tablets’ use supported basic skills for learning and advanced language skills for children who were being inducted into school ways of ‘doing’ and ‘being’. Individual and small group learning was experienced with a detailed focus on conceptual understanding (building number skills, recognition of letters and sounds, word knowledge), using language in context (eBooks) and as a stimulus for talking in English (often a second language).