Toddlers Learning From a Screen

Screentime compared to face-to-face interactions
Posted at 6:25 AM, Jan 06, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Some parents think of the screen as a temporary babysitter, something that keeps young toddlers fascinated and occupied for a few moments while parents take care of chores. But is your toddler really learning from on-screen characters?

Hand two-year-old Stephen a toy car and he’s ready to take off, not only with his hands but with his mouth.

“His big thing is vehicles and he can name just about every vehicle, construction vehicle on the road,” detailed Stephen’s mom Sara Harvey.

Two-year-old Tyson’s learning is sparked by his curiosity.

Tyson’s mom, Jessica Simmons, told Ivanhoe, “He likes to point at things and say, ‘what’s this?’ and so I’ll tell him what the word is.”

But can this face-to-face learning be just as effective on the screen?

Developmental psychologist Georgene Troseth, PhD, studied 176 toddlers, ages 23 to 32 months. They were split into younger and older groups. Some of the toddlers from each group watched a teacher, in person, label an object that the kids had not seen before. The name of the object was made-up.

The other toddlers watched the same teacher doing the demonstration by Skyping through a video screen. Then a researcher asked the child to choose the named object. They found “Whether the person was actually Skyping, pausing, waving for the child's attention, they still did not learn the novel word for the novel object when it was on video,” explained Troseth.

The finding suggests that kids two years and younger learn best from real-world experiences. However, Troseth says young children can still learn from video if there is a parent watching and participating with them.

Troseth said, “You’re watching a video and there were words in it that you wanted your child to know, repeating the word, talking about the object,” and labeling it can help your child make those connections to the real world.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than 18 months, except for video chatting with relatives. And from 18 to 24 months, they can be slowly introduced to digital media that is watched alongside their parents.