This post is part of a five part series on teaching toddlers the alphabet. This is Part 4.
Part 5 discussed the use of puzzles to teach the ABC’s to toddlers and stressed the importance of exposure to alphabet skills in toddlerhood: “Alphabet mastery is an important pre-reading skill that can be easily be explored in the toddler years through child-focused, exploratory activities.” (You can find it here: Part 5: Puzzles).
Another way that toddlers can experience the alphabet is through Alphabet Technology: young children learning the alphabet through technological mediums such as a televison, computer, tablet or smart phone.
Toddlers And Technology
Toddlers rely heavily on their parents and guardians to guide them in their daily activities; therefore, it is primarily the parents’ decision if and how often their young child interacts with technology. Parents often are very passionate about their toddler’s use of technology. Because of the known negative effects of excessive screen time (specifically non-interactive ST), some parents may even feel the need to ban technology entirely for children of this age group.
The problem with screen time is less with the device itself and more with how it used, specifically if a parent is not using the device with their child (see Toddlers’ Screen Time Linked to Slower Speech). This is similar to book interaction, in that a child gains more from reading when a parent is reading to them, asking questions, and pointing out text and illustrations, than if the child is playing with a book independently.
Parents and educators typically look to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for guidelines on technology usage in young children. As of 2016, the updated recommendations for toddlers include:
- Limit screen use to 1 hour daily
- Choose high quality programming
- Co-view media with children
- Designate media-free times and locations within the home (AAP Media & Children Toolkit)
Learning ABC’s through Technology
With the AAP recommendations in mind, parents can use technology as a means to explore the alphabet with their toddlers. As per the guidelines, solo media usage is not recommended for this age group; parents are advised to interact with their toddlers while they explore by asking questions and discussing what it is the child is viewing:
- Point out letters and letter sounds and encourage your child to say it out loud
- Practice verbalizing sounds together
- Sing the songs together
- Ask “what” and “why” questions about the letters or stories
- Make connections to the physical environment
- Make comments of encouragement and praise
There are an overabundance of alphabet apps aimed specifically for toddlers. These tend to be overly simplistic games where there is only basic exposure to the alphabet (i.e. the child pops a bubble with a letter in it).
While these games may be fun, there is no reason why your toddler cannot be exposed to more sophisticated alphabet subject matter.
The ultimate alphabet app for us is Endless Alphabet by Originator, a game where children create words with cute alphabet monsters. The Endless series of apps is a bit on the expensive side, but you WILL NOT regret buying it. We don’t buy a lot of apps for our kids, but this one is worth investing in (we also have Endless Reader, Endless Wordplay, and Endless Numbers). Buy it when your children are young and they can benefit from it for YEARS. How many other apps can do that?
Second to the Endless app is Starfall ABC’s. This app allows toddlers to interact with the different letters of the alphabet through words, sentences, mini-games, and songs. Children are able to see and hear the letters, and it is done in a way that is brief and engaging for toddlers.
In terms of screen time, toddlers can be successful with short clips of songs and videos, such on YouTube. Again, their time needs to be monitored. Your toddler may enjoy short Sesame Street clips (search for the letter of the day), as well as songs about the alphabet on KidsTV123, Bounce Patrol, Little Baby Bum, or the Mother Goose Club. For full episodes, toddlers can be introduced to Super Why and Word World, both through PBS. PBS is recommended by the AAP as “high-quality programming” (Recommendations for Children’s Media Use).
Every child’s use of technology is different. In my own household, my children engage with media differently and are therefore allowed different amounts. Parents are most knowledgeable about their child’s participation and reaction to technology and therefore can make this decision based on their child’s experience.
Technology abounds, and there is no need to limit it entirely, especially when there is so much your toddler can learn when exposes correctly. Some children show passion and talent for technology, even as early as toddlerhood. Instead of media, be mindful that it might be necessary to restrict tech. time and consider the following:
- Set media limits; toddlers cannot self regulate!
- Use a timer. Kreps everyone accountable for the time limit
- Have your child earn tech. time, even for educational games, apps, and shows
- Engage in imaginative play outside of tech.; use media as a springboard for other play
- Monitor! Monitor! Monitor!
- And feel free to take a tech. time out. Is media making your toddler extra cranky? Take a few days off, a week, a month. Slowly reintroduce when ready.
Still feeling anxious about toddlers and technology, check out these articles from PBS: How to Overcome Your Fears about Kids’ Screen Time or How Children Learn When We Join Them for Screen Time.
Or check out UG’s thoughts on screen time: Is TV Time Actually Good for Preschoolers?
Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series: Alphabet Games.