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If you haven’t heard about the iPotty then you need to read Joanne Mallon’s brilliant answer to Would you let your child use an iPad on the potty?. Hailed as a best-seller for Amazon and a must-have for parents of potty-training children, the iPotty is literally a potty that comes with an iPad holder attached. Forget reward charts and potty-training board books - your 21st century tot can now answer their emails while they answer the call of nature.
The iPotty isn’t the only device of its kind either - there suddenly seems to be loads of baby gear on the market designed to be used with grown-up’s gadgets. Take the Fisher Price Apptivity Gym - it’s basically a baby gym that can hold an iPhone. Why practice waving your hands around and swatting brightly-coloured toys that dangle overhead when you can lie back and watch CBeebies on Mum's iPhone?
Now I’m no Philistine - my lads (of primary school age) have their very own Kindle Fires, and we have everything from Nintendo DS devices to iPhones, iPods and an iPad at their disposal. I understand that getting to grips with the latest technology from an early age can be hugely beneficial for children, and I’m a huge fan of various apps for kids. But what disturbs me about this new generation of gadget-compatible products is that they’re essentially gimmicks designed to distract children, not help them engage in the things that matter.
A potty-training child needs to tune into its body, not zone out to whatever’s topping the kids' app charts. Frankly, no-one going to be impressed by your high score on Angry Birds if you can’t tell when your own bladder’s full.
I worry that items like the iPotty and Apptivity Gym put us at risk of raising a generation which, in the words of T.S Eliot, is ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’. They might be familiar with gadgets that look like the come from the future, but that's definitely not progress.
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I find this really interesting, because what if the iPad holder was a book holder? Would this be of concern? Possibly not.
Throughout the ages the world has developed and so have people's innate habits (it's called evolution I think) and 'technology' has been the main reason for this. I think it's therefore very important to determine what technology is as this will help us continue to appreciate that this is just further evidence of evolution.
For example in classrooms the blackboard (that many here will remember, but some not), has been replaced by the interactive white board, an electrical upgrade which allows teachers access to a mine of information at their fingertips. This is a learning tool and the iPad can be exactly the same on a one to one basis. So, if there is an app that helps a 2 or 3 year old learn and a parent to teach how to use the toilet properly the surely that's a good thing.
My son has just turned two and he does occasionally play (and at the same time learn) on an iPad, apps like Nighty Night ( an interactive story where you have to put the animals to bed which is great for him learning about animals and lights) and Little Fox (a musically led app which allows him to create his own songs and sing along with Old Macdonald and other favourites) are fantastic for him as long as they are a supplement to real life experiences.
So I would suggest that digital resources for learning are simply another option which allows every individual to have another choice in the media they use to educate themselves or their children. This may differ for different subjects, but the skill really is in identifying what's the best method for you or your child and using one or a combination of these to achieve the desired outcome in a fun and engaging way.
I think the full extent of the resource isn't always considered when bemoaning digital resources as is proved in using angry birds as a solitary example of distraction to try and make the T.S Elliot quote appropriate. A tablet (iPad) has a million and one educational functions that seem to have been ignored.
An interesting question I heard recently was 'At what point are people going to stop using 'digital' as a prefix for things?' May be worth considering.