iPods in Education Part 13: Uses in Kindergarten?

Posted: December 23, 2009 in edushifts, iPod in Education, reflections

Two articles (links provided at the end of this post) have stirred my reflective attention toward the use of an iPod or iPod Touch with Kindergarten students. I have tended to venture away from discussing the use of mobile devices for learning for children of pre-school or Kindergarten age.  Despite the countless number of videos on Youtube of children as young as 1 or 2 using an iPhone or iPod Touch with ease, I am still unsure of where digital technology fits in the molding of young minds at those foundational times in their lives.

As this blog obviously demonstrates, I am very much a proponent of using mobile and digital devices to help students learn.  I firmly believe that these devices help students learn in ways that are difficult or impossible without them.  I see these devices as ways to add complexity to learning and to allow more flexibility in terms of time and location.  However, as with everything in life, there are limits to the effectiveness of the tools we use.  When it comes to using digital tools for abstract learning and for collaborative communication, I’m all for it. However, I’m unsure when it comes to using digital technology for children who are still learning to develop basic brain and body function.

Here is my concern: digital technology, for all it’s attempts to incorporate the use of multiple senses, is invariably a visual tool.  Over-stimulating visual perception and awareness on a screen while under-stimulating other form sensory development make me a bit uneasy.  Humans are very much visual creature but we are also physical creatures as well. This issue reminds me of the John Wyndham novel The Day of the Triffids.  That novel depicts the dire concequences to humanity when the cultivation of a potentially deadly crop (a form of plant creature) and an unknown cosmic event combine to rob humanity of it one evolutionary advantage – sight.  When humans can no longer see, they become victim to this plant creature who now have the evolutionary advantage over humans.

While it is true that it is better to have a child actively engaged with an iPod that passively watching TV (whether at home or in an automobile), and while it is also true that there are many apps available that can begin to teach children at an early age, what is also true is that the devices cannot provide the experiences necessary for socialization or teach gross motor skills that physical activity can.

Therefore, when it comes to very young children, the use of an iPod can be very useful as these devices are easy to use, they are resource heavy and they are engaging.  Any video of a child playing with an iPhone/iPod Touch demonstrates this fact.  However, they need to be used carefully and in combination with other tools of learning.  While an iPod can do a better job than traditional tools with the parts of learning that involve access to information and collaborative communication, these forms of learning are best used after the foundational development has already taken place.  I’m not sure an iPod can replace blocks, balls and crayons when it comes to the physical development of the child or the experiences of physical social interaction.  Nor, I think, was it designed for this.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  I am interested to know what others think about this topic.


“An iPhone in Every Crib, An App for Every Toddler” – The Globe and Mail

“iTouch and Kindergarten – An Intro” – Blog post @ Edu-(Tech)niques

  1. Kimberly says:

    One way our lower grades use I-touches is to reinforce instructions for centers. The teacher record the instructions using the avatars on their Logitech webcams. Then when students switch centers the teachers don’t have to restate all the instructons, instead the students can replay them.

    They also use apps and some kid friendly podcasts in 1 center out of 4 – 6 that are going on in the classroom. The kids still get hands on in the other centers. But audio and visual learners get that type of reinforcement at the I-touch center.

  2. Thanks Kimberley for the ideas. They sound like very useful applications of the technology while not undermining other areas of development. Just to play the role of devil’s advocate: if one is using an iPod Touch with Kindergarten children to replay instructions and to play learning games, then is it necessary to use the iPod Touch at all? Could a computer that may already be found in the classroom be used for the same purpose without tut need to spend the extra money on an iPod Touch?

    Of course, I ask these questions half heartedly because I see the value in having a small portable device on hand but if we are to justify it’s use, we have to identify it’s value as something unique in helping students learn.

  3. Rob, have you read this post by Marc Prensky called ‘Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?’? He ends his post with this line:
    “So should you give your 4-year-old an iPhone (or at least an iTouch)? My answer is that, if you can afford it, why would you deprive them? And if you can’t, there ought to be public subsidies. In fact, every kid in school—especially primary school—should have one.”

    When I read Prensky’s post I felt uneasy about the idea of every 4 year old having an iPhone/iTouch. I think it is because I’m sure that in most cases it would get overused at the expense of the other skills that children need to be building on, the skills that you’ve outlined in your post. It becomes an electronic pacifier, as the first example in the Globe and Mail story you linked to. However, the author of the second article you linked to, Colin Gallagher, makes a good point that iPhones/iTouches are more accessible to kindergartners than desktop computers, so it makes sense to use them with this age group. Kimberly’s examples above also sound like a good use of this technology with younger students.

    Thanks for post–it’s definitely gotten me thinking about how we approach technology with some of our youngest learners!

    • I have not read Prensky’s post but will do so. Yes, the idea of having an electronic pacifier is upsetting – it’s a substitute to what the TV has been, and still is, for many kids. After all, isn’t that really the reason why DVD players are being installed in more and more automobiles these days? I guess what I am trying to say is that there is a fine line between engagement for the purposes of learning and entertainment for the purposes of keeping children quiet. I fear that too often, devices are used for the latter when they are capable of the former.

  4. Colin Jagoe says:

    You’re right Rob, that we need to use caution with all tech, and make sure that the teacher or parent is the primary educator, not the device. As I type this, my 6 year old is playing with ‘her’ iPod Touch (Daddy has an iPhone now) and watching Christmas videos on YouTube. We’ve got it loaded with edu apps and she’s as likely to be doing math practice, or reading stories as passively watching something. The ease with which she navigates the device is amazing. Much easier than a full size computer, much more intuitive. I think they are a great option for computing with kids. Like anything though, it’s just a tool, and they still need monitoring and feedback from a someone to achieve true potential. It’s can’t work just on it’s own.

  5. Joan Young says:

    I am sure there are many valuable uses for the ipod touch in the Kindergarten classroom, yet with budgetary constraints in CA, it will be some time before we ever see these devices in our classrooms! That being said… I think it’s wise to question utilizing devices that might take time away from hands-on, real life manipulation of blocks, magnetic letters, and even pencils! It can be tricky enough to get a barely 5 year old child over the hurdle of “it’s too hard to write!” when they spend a good deal of their time at home playing video games and being stimulated by lots of visual images. I am a HUGE fan of incorporating technology; I think it’s definitely powerful as an engagement means, however, more and more kids are coming to school, particularly kindergarten, not knowing how to regulate themselves and get along with peers. We must keep our focus on building initial interpersonal and learning skills in the early grades. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  6. Gail Desler says:

    I think a little bit of iTouch is fine in the primary grades – just as long as it does not replace the kinds of activities that help young students hone their large motor skills (like painting on a real-time easel, with the opportunities for bold brush strokes) and grow their imaginations (like inventing new character roles via the items found in the real-time dress-up box).

  7. Cathy says:

    I spent some time with my grandchildren, ages 2-8 during the holidays, and they all like “playing” with the iPod touch as they do interactive websites on the computer. I take my cues from them-the younger children are much more interested ini trying to figure out how it works-cause and effect,and are practicing their fine motor skills, whereas the 5 yr old and the 8 yr old enjoy playing the games-but I noticed their attention span is pretty typical for their age group. The 5 yr old loses interest after about 10-15 minutes, and the 8 yr old may stick with an activity for up to 20 minutes. Even though it is a new gadget-it is no more desireable to them than a marshmallow gun or Hannah Montana roller skates.

  8. Eric Sailers says:

    From my perspective working in special ed, iPods serve as a necessary learning tool for students with disabilities. A kindergarten student who is non-verbal, for example, needs to communicate with an application such as Proloquo2Go (http://www.proloquo2go.com/) for the iPhone and iPod touch. If the student isn’t allowed to have his iPod, then his communication is hindered. There are other apps that help students (even kindergartners) with behavior, time management, remembering tasks, access to reading and writing, and much more. If you want to learn more about applications that serve as learning tools, check out my app list for (special) education: http://www.scribd.com/doc/24470331/iPhone-and-iPod-touch-Apps-for-Special-Education.

  9. Thanks everyone for your comments. To continue the dialogue, have a look at another article I found on this topic – “Why an iPhone could actually be good for your 3-year-old” from The Boston Globe – http://icio.us/f2zsb4

  10. Robin Stimpson says:

    Hi Rob,
    I came upon your blog today and was intrigued by this title. I am currently working on my masters in integrating technology and taught kindergarten for 2 years. This stirred my thinking. I had not even thought about the itouch in the classroom. My eight and ten year old nephews got these as Christmas presents, and I was surprised at all of the educational apps my brother had downloaded. He was playing with the president application which included pictures and it got me thinking, he would probably never pick up a book like this for leisure. However, he will “play” with the itouch and learn educational information without even knowing it. He also enjoyed playing with google earth which will help him with geography. I was not a big advocate for electronic devices for such young children, but limiting their time on these devices as well as using traditional play toys seems like a great combination. As far as the classroom goes, I am not sure how the funding would get these to our classrooms, but I know kids of all ages would be excited to have them.
    Thanks again for your blog, I really enjoyed reading!

    • Thanks Robin for commenting and sharing. Unfortuately, funding is always an issue and will continue to be until there is a move from spending money on traditional media to digital media. In addition, as the prices keep coming down, more and more students already own these devices so I wouldn’t be surprised if soon, many elementary students will be coming to school with these devices already. The main question will then become: Do we ban and spend our energies enforcing the ban or do we encourage and teach appropriate use and incorporate them into lesson whenever practical?

  11. Robin Stimpson says:

    I think it would be great if we could incorporate them into the lessons at appropriate times. Perhaps in the future they will be attached to the student’s desks as a norm. The question is, how long? Technology is growing so fast, it is just a matter of time. And funding…..

  12. hchung says:

    How does using and incorporating an IPOD in the kindergarten classroom as described above be teaching the students differently? It sounds like we are replacing the teacher talk and using technology to do this instead, out of engagement and convenience. I have seen and witnessed students with autism using an IPOD to share their thoughts and questions using a touch otherwise they can not do so. My question is how do schools afford to buy IPODS for all their students? Does anyone know what the technology standards are for elementary students? Technology needs to be used to enhance learning and challenge students with their curriculum.

  13. Mary Martin says:

    I’m a retired teacher and now volunteer at our local elementary school. I have been in charge of several sessions where small groups of kindergarten students in our classes PLAY with iPods. I HATE IT! The kids don’t care about any of their classmates during this time. They won’t interact with me. They spend more time trying to find something that they like (read fun graphics) than they do actually working within a specific program (app). NO ONE in our school knows how these games (apps) operate. They just download what they find for free and expect that the kids are going to get something out of the use of these iPods. Our school has 8 of these (at $200 each) for the kindergarten students and another 6 units (another $200 EACH) for our pre-kindergarten students. That’s $2800 that could have been spent on balls, board games, puzzles, blocks, Legos, trucks, and other items that would help the students interact with each other (teaching cooperation) as well as help with their eye hand coordination and thinking skills. They DON’T NEED electronic devices to do this!

    • Hi Mary,

      I’m sorry you feel this way about the technology. I do think that the key statement in your comment is, “NO ONE in our school knows how these games (apps) operate.” Trying to use any form of technology without knowing how to use them for learning always results in a lack of success. Imagine a teacher trying to teach using video but running into the problem that no one knows how to operate the DVD player (or VHS if you prefer). Does that mean than the video has nothing to offer students in terms of learning potential? Of course not. The problem is trying to operate equipment and use it for teaching without having any prior understanding into how it works. I will agree with you that using iPods in any grade will lead to failure if the teacher doesn’t know how to use them. However, that is not the same thing as saying that iPods have no place in learning. I would recommend observing a teacher who is using electronic tools effectively before dismissing electronic devices outright.

  14. Mary Martin says:

    I see these iPods as a replacement for the television. I see NO VALUE for kindergarteners or 4 yr olds in using these. The technology specialist at the school insists that the iPods are great for eye-hand coordination. POOH!!! These kids need to be stacking blocks, or catching and throwing balls or doing some other activity that will help with large motor coordination, cooperation and sharing, not sitting with a 3″ x 5″ mini tv screen and tapping the screen.

    I’m sure, at some level, the iPods do help with learning….ADHD students or those with Autism…but the average 4 or 5 year old does not need to be using these iPods.

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