Can Touchscreen Devices Help Early Years Learning?

Young children develop and learn through play. This is the basis for the UK’s early years foundation stage that sets the standard for learning and development of children from birth to five years old.

It emphasises the importance of games and play for teaching communication and language, physical, personal, social and emotional development and other skills such as literacy and mathematics. 

However, in our increasingly digital world, many parents are concerned about how much time their children spend in front of screens, calling into question whether touch screens are favourable or detrimental to a child’s development.

Touch screens: Good for Development?

One study found that children were able to learn from their touch screen devices and apply that knowledge to the physical world. 

The experiment involved examining 4-to-6-year old children learning to solve a problem on a touch screen device using a Tower of Hanoi app, and then applying this learning to physical objects. 

The results found that the children demonstrated significant improvement in solving the task and concluded that children could transfer learning from touch screen devices into the physical world. 

A touch screen’s capacity to be a learning and development tool could be attributed to its tactile nature. 

Children love to touch things and understand how they work to satisfy their curiosity. 

The ability for information to be physically manipulated on a touch screen is perfect for engaging children, and they can be easier for them to use than a desktop computer.

Learning Through Apps 

In 2017, Ofcom reported that 65% of 3-to-4-year olds use a tablet, with one in five having their own. 

This could sound alarming to some, but there are numerous ways that digital technology can be used in play. 

Many touch screen-based app developers believe that their apps can help to promote learning in young children. 

One study suggests that apps can be used as a stimulus for imaginative play, such as play based on characters and stories encountered in games or virtual worlds. 

One study that followed a group of children in their homes found that the children demonstrated 15 different types of play when using touch screen apps. 

They applied imagination and fantasy play as they acted out episodes from apps based on characters from their favourite films and programmes. 

They also demonstrated creativity through the likes of producing slideshows with photographs, editing pictures and creating tunes with musical apps. 

The scope of play demonstrated in this study suggests that touch screen apps themselves are a form of play.

Creative apps have been highlighted as crucial to children’s cognitive development as children acquire new skills, knowledge and understanding. 

They incorporate both creative thinking and the creative act, such as when a child uses a touch screen for drawing.

But it’s not just games and play that touchscreens have been shown to facilitate. 

Another study highlighted how, when young children were given maths and language apps on a touchscreen, their scores on maths and language tests improved and were better than the scores of the children not given the touchscreens to use. 

The results suggest a link between enhancing children’s ability to learn and retain information when interacting with educational apps on touchscreen devices.

While not all the results of studies on the implications of touchscreen apps for development in children are conclusive, it’s clear that certain apps can promote creative learning and play. 

Educational apps designed to promote learning in young children could undoubtedly have a positive impact on child development and could help ease parents’ negative feelings towards their children having dedicated screen time.