In Eastern Washington, High-Tech Toy Becomes a Learning Tool
September 23rd, 2013 by Holly Wyrwich
How do you fit dozens of children’s books in your diaper bag? How do you embrace a toddler’s finger-paint artistry without requiring a big cleanup? And how do you make a library of updated and relevant educational information accessible to parents who don’t have a computer at home or the resources to take parenting classes?
The answer is simple: iPad.
The Parents as Teachers home visiting program run by the Selkirk School District in Pend Oreille County is using the tablet device made by Apple to enrich the learning experiences for families with young children.
“The parents are very thankful to use it,” said Sara O’Donnell, a home visitor who serves about 15 families enrolled in the program. “They tell me, ‘I don’t know what we’d do without the iPad.’ ”
In a rural area where early learning services and parenting education opportunities are few, the technology is a novel way to foster interactions for children’s healthy growth and development.
The voluntary Selkirk program, which subscribes to the national PAT model, emphasizes parent-child interaction, development-centered parenting and family well-being. The program was created in 2002 and has received funding from the state Home Visiting Services Account for about a year. Learn more about the account, which is administered by Thrive.
The iPad idea came from the Selkirk School District’s efforts to increase accessibility to technology for its students. With the support of grants, students in the elementary and middle schools are incorporating iPads, e-readers and iPods in their curriculum.
The district says it is making an effort to close the digital divide by giving technology access to families furthest from opportunity and in rural areas. Technology can also be personalized, the district says, and can be used to reinforce learning, introduce new concepts and infuse a level of excitement for learning. Familiarity with technology will help students be more competitive in the academic and professional arenas.
In the Selkirk home visiting program, the parents are coached to use the iPad interactively with their children and to limit “screen time.” Just like with any toy or book, research shows that babies and toddlers learn best when play is accompanied by interaction with an adult.
“When parents are interacting with their children, then learning is happening,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a fun way for the children to learn because they’re excited about the iPad, and parents are more excited to work with their children.”
The apps they use enhance early learning, with activities such as:
- Listening to music
- Drawing pictures
- Reading stories
- Following simple directions
- Learning to recognize symbols and colors
- Learning early math concepts
Overall, the iPad usage has helped improve the children’s fine motor skills, as they use their little fingers to point, touch and swipe on the iPad screen.
Articles and videos about parenting and early learning are also loaded onto the devices for parents to reference when the little ones are not around. The iPads are equipped to access certain websites when WiFi is available, so that parents can read up-to-date resources.
“The PAT model does encourage parents to limit screen time, and our home visitors talk to them about the importance of interacting with their children,” said Linda Clark, the Parents as Teachers lead for Washington state. “What is happening with the iPads is a technology solution that fits into our best knowledge about how children grow and develop. We support the Selkirk program in engaging their clients in a unique way.”
The iPads for the PAT program were purchased with federal grant dollars, and there are almost enough to go around for the program’s 18 families, who borrow the iPads for six months at a time. The families are asked to pay low insurance premiums to cover the hardware.
Selkirk would be happy to accept donations of money or hardware in order to expand this program. To learn more about the Selkirk home visiting program or to donate, contact Erin Kinney, firstname.lastname@example.org.