Cell Phones for Learning – With a 2 Year Old

My oldest daughter is just a month over 2 years old. She has always loved playing with my and my wife’s phones. In fact, she started to think every screen was a touch screen and did not really know what an old landline phone was when she saw it, as we had gotten rid of ours before she was born. I would let her watch videos on my old BlackBerry, but there really was not too much for a 1 or 2 year old to do on it.

I was sitting with my daughter on my lap last night and she said “phone” and tried to take my phone out of its case. I obliged. I recently purchased an Android phone, specifically the Droid X. One of the first things I did when I bought the phone is I download some games and educational applications for kids.  One of the nice advantages of this particular phone is that the screen is 4.3 inches, which is very easy for my little girl to see. Proportionally, it’s almost a tablet for her.

Sometimes, especially with the BlackBerry Storm I had as it had few worthwhile applications for a child under 2, I would hand her the phone and just let her play . She would make things happen just by continually pressing the screen. I really do believe that play and exploration is one of the best ways to learn technical things. I learned nearly everything I know about computers from playing on them; I took exactly one computer class, a summer seminar on Visual Basic programming, which I’ve never used. Everything else came through playing and exploring, starting with an old Windows 3.1 computer when I was just a little older than my daughter.

The last few times I’ve let her play with the Droid X, though, I opened applications for her to play with. Some definitely required a little scaffolding, but she had fun and was definitely learning. Here are some of the things we did on the “phone” last night:

  • We opened an animal coloring book app. Eve loves to color on paper and she very quickly understood how to choose a color. She wanted me to color with her, but she quickly grasped the concept. She particularly liked experimenting with colors. She would make the horse green and then laugh about it.
  • Trinkle is easily her favorite app. It is a simple concept. It is a blank white screen that is basically a piano. When you press your finger to the screen, a colored bar will come up where your finger it and play a tone. This gives her a creative, musical outlet.
  • There were two similar apps on shapes and colors. At first, she did not quite understand. It shows a flash card with a shape or color. When she would pressed it, it would speak the name of the shape or color. She soon tired of hearing “circle” over and over. So, I showed her how to press the arrow at the bottom of the screen. After that, she would press the arrow, say the name of the shape or color if she knew it, and press the button. If she did not yet know it, she would press the button and then try to repeat it.

It is wonderful watching my little girl learn and have fun. I would have recorded it, but she was holding my video camera.  While none of these particular apps necessarily promote higher-order, critical thinking skills, she is only 2 and people do need to know their shapes and colors. There are so many powerful applications for Android and iOS (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad) that really do promote critical thinking. If a 2 year old can learn and have fun (And maybe become a little more independent and self-directed; when given a choice, she will tell me which app she likes or wants to use.), just image what a middle school or high school student with some training can do. Why are we wasting this resource? I would venture to guess that in less than 5 years, nearly all phones will be smart-phones in developed countries and almost all students will continue to have phones. We can either embrace this or tell the students to stop learning and put their tools back in their pockets. I know what I want for my kids. What do you think?

If you are interested, here are the QR codes for the free games I mentioned. Just scan them with Barcode Scanner from an Android phone to download.

Animal Coloring Book

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