While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents put a 1- to 2-hour time limit on kids' media time per day, that doesn't mean that technology is out. Although parents should keep tabs and put constraints on tech time, there are some developmentally appropriate ways for young children to interact and learn from computers and all those other mesmerizing screens.
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, technology that includes the use of interactive media can actually help kids to learn in a developmentally appropriate way. What makes a tech toy interactive? It's the ability for the child to get hands-on and actively participate in the learning process. For example, staring at a computer screen as colors or letters move by is a passive pursuit. On the other hand, if the child is able to get involved and make decisions, press keys or move a mouse to create or choose different options, the technology is interactive.
Socially Interactive Technology
Another aspect of developmentally appropriate technology is the ability for a child to interact with a parent, teacher or other child while using a computer game, software or other media item. Developmentally appropriate technology for young children can include a social aspect, in which the child can talk to or work with another person in order to solve problems and learn new concepts. This may include something as simple as a parent-child question-and-answer session while playing a shape-matching game online, or a more peer-oriented situation such as two or more preschoolers playing a number game together on the computer.
Developmentally appropriate tech toys and programs should include an array of concepts that meet the young child's learning level. Think of this as a digital translation of paper and pencil -- or other classroom -- material. For example, the child development experts at PBS Parents note that 4-year-olds can learn basic mathematics concepts such as counting up to 10, matching geometric shapes and recognizing sequences of patterns. A computerized version of a math game should include these concepts in order to keep in line with the young child's developmental abilities. Likewise, technological learning experiences in other subjects should have concepts that are age-appropriate.
Another aspect of developmentally appropriate technology use is the actual content that your child is viewing. While keeping learning concepts age-appropriate is key, additional types of viewing -- such as online searches and websites -- should meet your child's level. This means closely monitoring your young child's computer use, setting parental controls and using a kid-friendly search engine such as KidRex. With the growing use of computers and the Internet, it is unrealistic to think that your child can grow up without surfing online. Instead of ruling out Internet use, turn it into a developmentally appropriate exploration in which your little learner can safely search.