Despite what all of the major computer and smartphone manufacturers might want you to believe about their products, there is one of the bestselling computer products in the world that they do not manufacture. The computer device that is facing almost no competition from any of the major manufacturers is the LeapPad. The LeapPad is an educational tool that LeapFrog designed to look like a tablet computer, but is programmed exclusively with educational software for children from ages 3 – 9. This is a noble idea, but it is hard for educators not to be wary of it.
The LeapPad has a lot of strengths. In addition to keeping children occupied, the LeapPad engages children from ages three to nine with math, reading, spelling and science problems that help to educated them. The LeapPad makes learning fun for children with the bright screen and engaging activities it offers. As well, the simple design of the LeapPad helps to familiarize children with the basics of using a handheld computer device without parents risking their much more expensive tablet computers.
Unfortunately, that last strength is a potential minefield for American culture. The LeapPad is, in part, designed to prepare children for using computer devices like tablet computers. By creating the connections in children early, children will have a much stronger understanding of how to use more sophisticated tablets. A child raised on a LeapPad would, presumably, be able to use an Apple iPad easier, when that device became age appropriate. Moreover, using the LeapPad as an educational and reference tool fosters in children the idea that they ought to start using adult tablet computers when they grow up.
The potential problem here is that tablet computers are essentially asocial devices. When children are taught to use their tablet computer to find every answer to every question, they both fail to learn the fundamental skills and they become dependent upon a single channel. When children are taught to simply Google for an answer, they fail to learn the fundamental research skills needed to look for information when the Internet is not available. Moreover, with even tablet computers like the Kindle Fire veering away from being strictly an e-reader and providing movies, music and the like, children are being raised to expect everything at their fingertips at all times.
Just as children are demanding cell phones at young ages based on both modeling from adults and the toys they play with now, the LeapPad potentially creates a consumer demand for tablet computers at a younger age. In addition to fostering an unrealistic expectation about access to media and the Internet, moving from the LeapPad to a tablet computer is essentially moving a child from one insular activity to another. Without play and socialization, the educational tool that was a LeapPad (and later a tablet computer) actually becomes a device that may be debilitating to normal intellectual development.
Technology should make our lives easier, but without a balance between virtual experiences and real world experiences, parents may be robbing their children of vital childhood experiences.
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