My son Noah has had his iPad for about 4 months. He is now two and half years old. He has moderate Cerebral Palsy that affects both his lower body (i.e., he does not walk yet) and upper body, arms, hands and trunk. So, for those of you who are playing the home game, fine motor, language and cognitive development are all areas where wewere looking for improvement.
Four months ago Noah was diagnosed by a developmental specialist asbeing at least 12 months behindin hislanguage, cognitive development and fine motor skills. Very recently, we did ourannual evaluation with Early Childhood Development (see definition below) and their evaluation has him on par in thecategories of language and cognitive development andmuch further ahead than previously thoughtfor fine motor. Not all evaluations are equal, but in 4 months we have gained 12 months’ worth of advancement. While all of this is due to Noah’s efforts, we, his parents, believe that the iPad has been one of the primary ingredientsin unlocking his potential. There is no doubt in our minds that without the iPad, Noah would not have made the progress we have seen.
When we introduced theiPad to Noah, he thought it was a neat toy, something flashing, but hard to use because of his Cerebral Palsy. It quickly moved into the realm of interesting, challenging and informative. Now he uses it 1 to 2 hours a day, as a tool to draw, play music, and learn.
What Noah has learned in four months using the iPad
Noah has learned all of his colors -primary and secondary. He can verballydistinguish between two of the same objects of different colors and select theobject in the color requested. He can select different colors and drawin his coloring books.
He can count to 20 independently and count objects to 15. He can do a memory game that is as high as 5 x 6 tiles by himself.
He has learned theentire alphabet and can select every letter correctly in a field of 6 different letters. He has started to identify short words based on the first letter of the word and is now moving onto phonics.
He can also play basic notes on his music devices. We have also learned he likes puzzles and games.
In the beginning, he was unablestart anapplication, turn on the device, navigate from app to app, change sound levels,or turnthe iPadoff. He now knows how to do all of these things, and when he runs into any issues, he now verbally asks for help. We believe this be a direct result of his desire to keep playing with the iPad.
How it started
It all started with a comment made by his ECI Development Specialist and coordinator (ECIis Early Childhood Intervention. Most states have a similar program; in ours, we are assigned a development specialist that quarterbacks the child’s various services run by the state.). She said,” You know, Noah would likely respond very well to an iPad.” I like technology, so that was all I needed to hear -Icanbuy some really cool tech for my kids, I’m there. I did not really know much about it, but I figured the larger format, the games, music, andvideos at the very least would be a good media device for Noah.
In short order, I had a new iPad, with case and screen protector ready, it was registered, I had logged it into our wifi network, setup the iTunes account and it was all ready to go. Now what?
Looking back, there are three major steps in setting up the iPad. First, you need to buy it and get it running, both the hardware (case, protector, device) and the account (app store). Second, you need to figure out how to use it. It is a very simple device to use, but there is a way it works that is unique to Apple and you need to be familiar with that. For example, turning it on andoff, how to launch an application (app for short), download andorganize the various apps, switch from app to app and page to page, etc. You get the idea. This process is one both you and your child will go through. The third and last step is selecting and installing theapplications and games that are appropriate for your child and that willhelp them.
Selecting the App
Once you setup the iPad and learn how it works, the real work is researching the apps. This is an ongoing process. The first set of apps needs to accomplish two goals: be interesting and fun enough to getyour child’sattention, but also be simple enough to use without getting frustrated. In other words, fun enough to play and easy enough to help him or her learn to usethe iPad. In my mind, apps fall intoone of three categories: core developmental, music, and drawing. So Isearched for some really basic apps and found Toddler Teasers (shapes and colors), a Music creation app calledBeatwave and a very simple drawing program. I also started with an app called Bubbles.
Start with the most basic of apps
The app that started theintroduction processwas Bubbles. This app can be used by any level of user as long as they can tap (touch, slap, poke) the screen. Tap once andthe appcreates a bubble that floats across the screen. Tap on the bubble and it pops. Tap somewhere else and more bubbles are created. Very simple. This is great app; the act of creating bubbles and popping them is great in real life and is no different in digital form except you can’t eat them. Every oncein a while,I see my son and daughter both trying to lick the screen, but that does not work. This app is also good to introduce very young children to the iPad. My daughter is9 months old and enjoys using it as well.
The great thing about this app for Noah is that is fun and easy. It got him to interact very easily with the iPad. When we started, he thought the iPad was cool looking, it tasted great, you could chew on it, but he did not realize there was a whole world of things to do on it. Bubbles gave him a start and was fun and easy, sparking more interest. At this point, he did not know how to navigate from app to app or turn the device on or off. We would sit together and just play Bubbles.
Next Set of apps
Colors and shapes were the next logical choice. We started with two Toddler Teaser apps (first color, then shapes). The format for these appsis tostart with being asked to selectone of three items. As you get correct answers, you will move to 1 of 4, then 1 of 6, so it builds upon success. When you get an answer right, you get verbal congratulations, like “yay” or “you are correct” and lots of clapping. Get an answer incorrect, and you get very nice “try again” and thenanother requestto find theshape or color sought. Four correct answers and your child gets to pick a sticker and put it on a page, then back to the game. There are about a dozen Toddler Teaser apps, ranging from colors to letters, numbers, food, andanimals. From there, we moved onto numbers and letters, then tofood and animals, transportation,etc.
Navigation and Discovery
Roughly a monthafter he started using the iPad,Noah learned both how to turn the iPad on and unlock the screen, as well as how to navigate from one app to another. This meant that when he got bored or wanted to change apps he could do so all by himself. This was a big step for him and for us. If he was bored or wanted something he did notneed us right there. It also meant that he could explore applications on his own. I often will find appsthat Ithink he will like now and ones that I think he will like when he is a little more advanced. For example, I downloaded the numbers and letters apps at the same time, knowing he was ready for numbers, but not quite ready for letters. I then show him both apps, when he is curious andbecause he can navigate, I will often find him exploring things that are more advanced. When the app becomes too difficult or loses his attention, he will then navigate somewhere else.
Now after 4 months
Noah spends a few hours a day with his iPad between school and home. He is not much into TV or videos, so he will play on the iPad while the rest of us watch TV (yep, my9 month old likes TV, the more explosions and noises the better, but that is a different story). The iPad is not only a learning tool, but also a toy. He is getting more into drawing both in the physical and digital worlds. We are using a lot of flash card programs to expose him to more things for basic item identification as well as more complex phrases with object attributes and object relationships. I want to introduce more music and drawing-related items. We have downloaded a lot of his music CD (he like the CDs) but in his mind music comes from the CD player and the iPad is more for other things. He likes pictures, soit would be nice for the iPad to have a camera. I can see him taking pictures and playing with them.
Other random notes:
We are on ourthird screen protector for the iPad. I am not only good a putting them on now, I am also happy I got them on there early. The screen would not been able to handle the damage without it. We also clean the thing constantly-you have to remove it from its cover and clean both of them. I swear he uses the device as a placemat. There is food, drool, and lots ofother stuff caked on it all of the time. He is really attached to it and it can be emotional when he wants it, so we have some rules around its use. We don’t let him use it at the table during meals. We don’t let him bring it in during bath time. And wefinally learned you need to let the iPad go “Night Night,” otherwise he will stay up late continuing to play with it.
While Noah himself is the primary reason for the development we’ve witnessed, the iPad has been a great tool to bring the world to him in ways that would be very difficult to do physically.