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Digitally Savvy Young Children

By Deborah Williams

Today’s preschoolers don’t know a world without electronic media.  Understandably, they are drawn to tablets, smart phones, and computers.  As a matter of fact, much software and apps are devoted to this group.  In a recent NPR interview with Eric Westervelt, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, explains that, while he is not completely against digital education tool for young children,  young children need appropriate ones.  He is concerned, however, “that Americans  are overcharging their infants’ developing brains.”

Dr. Christakis explained that the overstimulation of the brain is caused by fast paced media.  Young children are not learning the way previous generations did.  Previous generations played with things like blocks that allowed them to “interact with the environment and with adults.”  Those children learned in real time with activities that often are displaced when young children engage in digital activities.  He argues that today’s fast paced digital interactions are so fast that it taxes the young child’s brain.  “Watching such fast-paced programs diminishes what we call ‘executive function’ immediately afterwards.  It tires the mind out and makes it not function as well immediately after viewing it.”

So, what are some of these real time activities?  Dr. Christakis explained that playing with blocks, drawing, reading are examples.  The results of his randomized study of 200 children from a low-income environment who engaged with various forms of block play: stack the blocks, sort the blocks, divide the blocks by color, etc.  He found that those who engaged in block play scored “slightly above average and significantly and clinically different from the control group” in language development.

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