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Baby Tech

“Can I play on your phone?” 

It's a chronic request from the kids when there’s down time – waiting for food at a restaurant, riding in the car, watching a sibling’s soccer game, wandering around the mall.

These elementary school kids have been using technology since they were old enough to sit up in front of a computer.  Now even younger children may have access to technology.  How about an iPad case that serves as a teether for kids as young as 6 months?

From the folks at Fisher-Price, who brought to these kids’ parents the plastic tree house, the farm, the castle, and hundreds of other toys, now comes an iPad cover that “allows its user to gnaw on its brightly
Tech-baby colored handles and drool onits protective screen, while also manipulating apps for counting and singing" says Nicole Laporte in the NY Times.

Fisher-Price isn’t the only toy company working to discover how early they can sell technology to the parents of very young children.  LeapFrog, maker of the LeadPad, a touchscreen tablet for kids as young as three, is also in the early tech race along with Hasbro and Crayola.  The companies engage in a process they call “spelunking,” which entails inviting children and their moms into the lab where researchers can observe kids’ readiness for various technical toys.  The results are toys like the Apptivity Monkey, a stuffed animal with a plastic iPhone case embedded in its stomach.  The Monkey is due out in August.

Wanting to give your kid a leg up is nothing new, of course, but it’s  hard not to be a little skeptical about baby tech.  Remember the early claims that Baby Einstein products would make your child smarter?  I actually bought one of those videos for a grandchild, only to discover that I could have made the same thing with a few minutes and my iPhone.  Maybe it made me smarter.  And by the way, the Baby Einstein website now proclaims, “…we’re making everything we do in 2012 about happiness.”

One skeptic of baby tech is  Dr. Ari Brown, author of Baby 411.  Brown says that babies need to learn how to communicate and problem solve using all their senses.  “While technology can offer a virtual way to learn some of these skills, they will never replace the value of interacting with humans or being able to manipulate and play with toys in one’s hands,” says Brown.

I have to admit to being ambivalent about the early introduction of baby tech.  For example, how is giving an infant an iPad to watch a movie any different from plunking her down in front of the TV?  Is downloading an alphabet app different from watching Sesame Street?  Can kids develop creative play on a machine better than with other kids and inanimate objects?  Will early introduction to technology add to childhood obesity as kids opt for the machine rather than for active play?

My biggest concern as I observe kids and readily accessible technology is what seems to be a growing inability to amuse themselves without tech and to feel at loose ends if they don’t have something in their hands to occupy their minds.  I also wonder if easy access to hand-held tech signals the end of intelligent (or even semi-intelligent) conversation at the table as everyone is looking a the phone while waiting for the meal to arrive.

It's possible, of course, that baby tech is really designed for the baby's parents.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.