Computer Games in Early Education – Not Such a Bad Thing?

We’ve all heard the warnings about too much screen time for young children. But are these technologies necessarily bad at this age? Many modern parents shy away from all screen-based technology for their preschoolers in favor of more traditional tabletop games. However, used together, tabletop and computer games can complement a child’s education.

I have a confession.  I love board games.  Passionately.  When I started my own family, one of my main sources of excitement was that I would be able to share my board game collection with my children.  Plus, I would have an excuse to buy new ones!

As a neurobiologist, I considered myself in tune with the latest thoughts about early education.  Although my specialty is cellular and molecular neurobiology, my research focused on brain development, and I frequently communicated with cognitive neuroscientists.  I knew the popular warnings about too much screen time for toddlers, and I initially vowed to keep my children away from such devices and stick to the basic toys:  blocks, wooden puzzles, stackable rings, etc.

However, like many young parents, I soon found that life got in the way of my good intentions.  Long restless waits in doctors’ offices led to me slipping my son my iPhone.  Days with only a few hours of sleep led to me turning on the television for him just so I could get a good nap.  I was in survival mode.

Then a funny thing happened.  One Saturday morning at the library, my 18-month old son started reading aloud all the letters that were randomly distributed on the alphabet rug in the story corner.  Another mother turned to me in astonishment and said, “Wow, you must practice with him every day!”  My cheeks turned a bright shade of scarlet as I admitted that no, I worked full-time in a lab, although I did read books to him a lot.  “Well then,” she pressed, “how does he know all that?”  I gulped and whispered, “Television.  We watch a lot of ‘Super Why’.”  She looked horrified.

But it was true.  Screen technology was providing my son an excellent jumpstart on education.  Moreover, whereas television channels like PBS and Nickelodeon Jr. provide a wealth of educational programming, the world of apps for mobile devices takes it even further.

The choice of educational apps for preschoolers is phenomenal.  I cannot possibly list all of them, but here are some highly recommended ones:

  1. Endless Alphabet. Created by Originator, this app is a fun, silly way for kids to learn their letters from cartoon monsters.  Once children have mastered these concepts, the same company makes another app called “Endless Reader,” which teaches them how to put letters together to form words.
  2. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. Made by THUP Games, this app is a mix of learning letters, shapes, colors, sizes, memory, and more.  Successful completion of games results in reward stickers.
  3. TeachMe: Kindergarten.  Developed by 24x7digital, this app is for children who have moved beyond preschool.  It covers addition, subtraction, spelling, sight words, and writing.  Players earn coins which then can exchange for reward stickers.

To be clear, there is no substitute for the neurodevelopmental effects of physical toys in early education.  Simple objects such as blocks exercise toddlers’ sensory and motor control, both vital components of brain development.  They can also expose preschoolers to letters, numbers, and abstract thinking.  However, used in moderation, computer games can be an excellent source of enrichment for young children’s cognitive skills.

CatherineCatherine C. Swanwick, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Catlilli Games

A lifelong lover of board games, Catherine earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Virginia after graduating with her B.S. in Biology from Duke University. She then performed eight years of postdoctoral neuroscience research, with five years at the National Institutes of Health and three years at MindSpec.

As the mother of two young children, Catherine understands the importance of exposing kids to STEM topics early and is thrilled to see them engage with complex topics in a fun, simple way.


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