A tablet for a child, redux

BitDepth#968 originally published on December 23, 2014

The Disney Storytime app is well stocked, but you pay for each new book.
The Disney Storytime app is well stocked, but you pay for each new book.

One year ago, an exploration into how to make use of a tablet for a preschool child suggested that the best option was Apple’s iPad.

That remains the case.

Software options on Android remain painfully limited and development on Windows for phone and tablets in that market segment still lag the frenetic pace of new software releases and updates on Apple’s well-populated App Store.

For Windows users, at least, that situation looks set to change with the release of Windows 10, which more effectively integrates Modern UI apps with traditional desktop software, but that remains in the future for Windows powered tablets.

Twelve months of hard use from still developing little hands have proved Newer Technologies’ claims for its NuGard KX protective cases, which add significant bulk to the exterior of the sleek devices, but are effective at dissipating the shock of most short falls to the floor.

If you share an iPad with a child, then it’s best to surrender the home screen to their apps and move your software a couple of blank screens down to reduce incidents of errant fingers from messing around with your work.

There’s a real temptation to just allow a child to entertain themselves with a tablet once you think you’ve set it up and bulletproofed it, but those little fingers are far more clever than your best plans.

Streaming apps can allow you to decide what content a child will view on the Internet, and there’s a wonderful Disney app that has a nonstop flow of the studio’s cartoon shorts.

That type of thing can quickly prove addictive, and you may find, as I did, that it’s better to dispense with such convenient palliatives.

A three-year-old will quickly figure out YouTube, and it’s necessary to exercise careful oversight over the use of the abundantly stocked content outlet.

On the one hand, a child can quickly begin exploring all kinds of interesting thumbnails, discovering things that won’t normally appear in the careful programming of network television.

On the other hand, that.

I’ve seen a youngster discover Lego and PlayDoh instructional videos and fall in love with the play potential of older toys that I was sure had seen their day, and I’ve also seen the same child discover, then raptly watch Nicki Minaj shake her ample booty.

Like almost anything available on the Internet, there’s some good stuff with a disturbingly lavish serving of the bad, so be constantly aware of what’s happening on that little screen and don’t hesitate to explain the why-nots of things quite clearly.

There’s a startlingly large selection of learning apps for spelling, writing and numeracy, but most require guidance and in the case of writing software, a stylus, because children don’t learn to write properly with their fingers.

There’s an abundance of beautifully illustrated digital books available for iPad, including apps which act as a kind of virtual library, offering you a starter set of one or two books and then offering a larger selection as purchases you make within the app.

Most of these books also offer professional voices which can read a book to a child, but as it turns out, this is a really bad idea.

A child forms a different connection to a book when you read it aloud to them, with a voice they are familiar with and reassured by.

To be honest, it’s probably better to do things like this with a proper paper book, which will be bigger and encourage more interaction with a child, but sometimes, particularly on vacation trips, it’s just easier to manage a collection of books in digital format.

One payoff is that many of these books offer limited animation and sound effects when a child touches things onscreen, which resonates with them in much the same way that a pop-up book might.

Try the BrambleBerry Tales trilogy and yes, Disney’s Storytime app (no escaping Frozen for you) for good examples of a digital book.

As with anything placed in the hands of a child, from dinner china to a bicycle, a tablet isn’t something you can safely walk away from.

Monitoring and guidance are necessary if you want any learning tool to do its work effectively.