Advice Column, Parenting, Toddler

Toddlers, technology and learning language

  • Clamber Club
  • Category Advice Column, Parenting, Toddler

Today, technology is part of our everyday lives – a telephone call, a quick SMS or WhatsApp, a glance at our friend’s new Facebook post, updating our Twitter feed, writing up an urgent email, the list goes on. But how does this affect our children? The answer is: We are still learning.

Does parental interruption by technology affect my child’s ability to learn language?

Clamber Club Expert and Speech and Language Therapist Savannah Senior explains that, “a recent study by Reed, Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff (2017) gives us a glimpse into the impact technology is having on our toddlers – particularly on their learning of language.” “This study aimed to discover whether a toddler was still able to learn new words when their communication partner (e.g. parents) was interrupted by technology i.e. A WhatsApp message or a telephone call,” adds Senior. Here is what they found:

  • Toddlers learn words in social situations, when parents or caregivers respond to their toddler verbally in the present moment.
  • When trying to teach your toddler a word or conversing with your toddler, you get into a social rhythm (i.e. verbal and non-verbal back and forth conversation). This is frequently done during play.
  • Usually, a toddler will learn new words within this rhythm of back and forth conversation.
  • When this rhythm is interrupted (in this case by a phone call or a parent being distracted by social media), learning is hindered. Your toddler will not learn new words from this social interaction.
  • Joint interruption, such as a doorbell ringing shifts the attention of both you and your toddler. You still have joint attention. This is different to a phone call in which shared attention is broken.

What have we learnt from this research and what do the findings of this paper suggest for the future?

Even though more research needs to be done, it is important that we start to think about the impact that technology has on our little ones – the way that they learn and how it changes our interactions with them. Here are Savannahs top 5 tips from this research:

  1. Find a time in your busy day to give your toddler undivided attention. This means turning off your phone or tablet, switching off the TV and focusing all your attention on him, with no interruptions. This may even be for 10 minutes a day.
  2. Put your phones and tablets away when playing with your children, as frequently as possible.
  3. Talk to your toddler. This is how he will learn new words.
  4. Mealtimes are frequently a social gathering for families. Put technology away during mealtimes. Focus on eating and enjoying the meal together.
  5. Make time for serve and return interactions when playing with your toddler, remembering that it’s not what we do to our children but how we INTERACT with them while doing it, that makes all the difference. These back and forth interactions are the bricks that build sturdy brain architecture and solid language skills.
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