Touchscreens can benefit toddlers – but it’s worth choosing your child’s apps wisely

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Elena Hoicka, University of Bristol

Young children learn through play. That’s why it’s the basis for early education in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and many other countries around the world.

But with more and more young children now spending a lot of time in front of screens, a big question for many parents is whether time spent on touchscreens is good or bad for a child’s play and development.

Data shows British three- and four-year-olds spend around four hours a day on screen time – including at least one hour on games. And one worry is that screen time leads to poor outcomes for children.

For instance, the more young children watch television, the less sleep they get. There are also moderately higher rates of obesity in young children who watch television on weekdays compared to those children who do not. So one argument is that if children have more screen time, this could also displace the time young children spend playing, and hence learning.

Time well spent?

But that said, some research shows touchscreens have direct benefits for play itself. A study that followed a group of six preschoolers in their homes – covering a total of 17 hours of video footage – found the children showed 15 different types of play when interacting with touchscreen apps. They communicated, explored, and imagined, among other types of play. This suggests using touchscreen apps is play itself.

The children in the study also used apps as the basis for traditional play – for instance, by acting out the Netflix children’s series Paw Patrol in the real world. Research has also shown how apps can benefit preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A study following four children found after playing with an app that encouraged pretend play, three of these children increased how much they pretended to be characters when playing with actual toys. This suggests apps could be used to teach children how to play more generally.

Screen time can be time for learning, too.
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Experimental research also shows playing with apps can have positive benefits on learning. One study showed how a group of four- to six-year-olds played with the Tower of Hanoi task on a touchscreen app. This task involves figuring out how to move a stack of rings from one rod to another without ever putting a larger ring on a smaller ring. After children played the task on the touchscreen app, they were then able to solve the problem with a physical version of the task without any additional time needed. This shows how children can learn through play on a touchscreen app, and transfer that learning to the real world.

Another study found that when preschoolers were given maths and language apps they enjoyed engaging with, their scores on standardised maths and language tests improved. This shows that playing with engaging and fun apps can help children learn some of the fundamentals at school. Even two-year-olds can learn language through apps, with research finding young children learn new words through Skype, but not television.

Play and learning

It seems, then, the relationship between touchscreen apps and play is complex. On the one hand, perhaps playing with apps will displace traditional play, leading to lower levels of activity in young children. But on the other hand, based on the research to date, it seems playing with apps could actually encourage play and learning – provided the apps have appropriate content for this function.

That said, the research in this area is still limited, so our lab is now running studies to find out whether apps show benefits or limitations to children’s play. Anyone around the world with a one- to three-year-old can participate in our longitudinal online survey. And it is hoped that by collecting this data over time, we can not only see if there is a relationship between touchscreens and play, but we can also find out if touchscreen use predicts children’s play long term.

We are also running lab studies in Bristol, England, to see whether playing with touchscreen apps makes two- and three-year-olds more or less likely to play later on – and whether children can learn to play from apps. Parents can find more information and sign up here.

So, for any parents out there who are wondering how to handle screen time with their young children, based on the current research, I would say choose app content that looks like it will help your child play or learn, but be wary of letting your children play with apps for too long, particularly near bed time.


The author is keen to interview children’s app designers, daycare workers, and parents about apps and one- to three-year-olds. If you’re interested in being interviewed, email Elena Hoicka at elena.hoicka@bristol.ac.ukThe Conversation

Elena Hoicka, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advice is a lifeline for people claiming benefits – but support services are under threat from cutbacks

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Michelle Farr, University of Bristol

Controversial changes to disability welfare benefits have left many ill and disabled people unable to access the support they need. In his speech to the Labour Party conference, the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, spoke of how benefit assessments had “created a ‘hostile environment’ for disabled people”. Continue reading

Mental health: depression and anxiety in young mothers is up by 50% in a generation

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Rebecca Pearson, University of Bristol

Back when it first started, 17% of young pregnant women in the Children of the 90s study reported symptoms severe enough to indicate clinical levels of depression. This figure was already worryingly high in the 1990s, but in their daughters’ generation it is even more common: 25% of the second generation of the study – women under the age of 24 who are becoming pregnant now – are reporting signs of depression and anxiety. Continue reading

Motivated to succeed? Attitudes to education among native and immigrant pupils in England

Perhaps the central policy question for those of us studying education is: how can we raise levels of attainment? For long, the focus was almost solely on cognitive skills, but a line of recent research has looked at the interaction between such skills and non-cognitive factors (also called psychological traits), motivations, and culture in generating higher student achievement. Continue reading

Finding a better way to identify children experiencing domestic violence

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Natalia Lewis, University of Bristol

Around one in five children in the UK have been exposed to domestic violence or abuse between their parents or caregivers. When adults are involved in an abusive relationship, their children bear the consequences. Continue reading

Food and drink options in NHS settings; new questionnaire prompts changes

 

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Dr Fiona Lithander, Senior Research Associate, NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre.

Fiona explains how a new questionnaire could be used to increase healthy food and drink options in hospital retail outlets

At the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Bristol Biomedical Research Centre we are interested in the role the NHS plays in promoting good nutrition and health in children. Recent reports have shown a quarter of children in the UK are overweight or obese; a worrying statistic in itself, and the problem doesn’t appear to be getting any better.

NICE guidelines say that retail outlets in hospitals such as shops, cafes, restaurants and vending machines should offer healthy food and drink options, and that these options should be prominently displayed. They also say that nutritional information about the foods on their menus should be available. These guidelines do not refer to foods served to patients, although patients may have access to foods and drinks for sale onsite.

At NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre we developed a new questionnaire to help NHS Trusts assess how healthy their food and drink options are. This differs from other questionnaires in that it allows Trusts to compare their findings with the NICE guidelines. Trusts can use this questionnaire to measure how healthy prepared foods for sale are, and can make changes accordingly. These changes may involve, replacing sugary drinks with sugar-free options such as water, and replacing chocolate bars with more healthy options such as unsalted nuts.

Using this questionnaire, we measured how healthy the foods and drinks were in two Trusts, and how closely they followed NICE guidelines. Our findings showed a lack of healthy food and drink options for sale in vending machines. Nutritional information on menus was minimal, and there was limited promotion and advertising of healthy foods and drinks. Since the findings were published, both of the Trusts have made improvements.

Our plan is to further develop the questionnaire in conjunction with the NICE guidelines, so that it can be used more widely in NHS Trusts and in local authority settings, such as leisure centres. Making it easier for parents to direct their children to healthier choices should be a central element of our healthcare system.

Disclaimer: This study was supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the National Institute for Health Research or the Department of Health.

This blog was originally published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

One benefit, one payee – does Universal Credit encourage financial abuse?

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Marilyn Howard, University of Bristol Law School

The Government’s flagship benefit reform, Universal Credit, could be sailing into choppy waters.
Universal credit aims to simplify benefits and to make work pay. It does this through amalgamating different means-tested benefits and tax credits, paid for different purposes and potentially payable to a different member of a couple. Included in Universal Credit are payments previously paid separately for housing costs and for children (Child Tax Credit). Continue reading

Lessons learned from imposing performance-related pay on teachers

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Simon Burgess, University of Bristol

 

One of the toughest subjects in classrooms at the moment is the recruitment and retention of teachers. Their level of pay is often cited as a problem – and possibly part of a solution.

In England, the public sector pay freeze of recent years has meant real terms pay cuts for many teachers. But another part of the picture is the procedure which decides how much an individual teacher gets. Until recently this has been the pervasive public sector approach under which pay has generally increased automatically over time. Continue reading

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Melanie Griffiths, University of Bristol and Candice Morgan, University of Bristol

Couples are being subjected to painful separations, uncertainty about their future and financial hardship by the UK’s strict immigration rules, according to our new research.

Between 2014 and 2017, we followed nearly 30 couples where the man had irregular or insecure immigration status in the UK but his partner or children were citizens of Britain or the European Economic Area (EEA). Continue reading

‘Solidari-tea’ with Helen from The Archers

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson discusses how the current storyline in The Archers raises the question of what justice means when it comes to abuse.

Social media has once again been a-twitter with discussion about The Archers.

I wrote back in April about the domestic violence and coercive control storyline and how the producers had managed to shine a light on the often hidden aspects of abuse. As the story moves this week into the Courts, the media is once again gripped by the drama, with people posting their pictures of solidari-tea with the central character, Helen. The Mail Online even ran a story with Barristers discussing the fictional case .

Continue reading