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Sunday 20 August 2017

Learning Spanish is child's play with the help of a tablet

My two-and-a-half-year-old is speaking Spanish.

I'm not one of those annoying parents trying to turn their toddler into a little Einstein. There are no music lessons, language immersion projects or maths exercises in our house. This remarkable development is not a result of good parenting, but quite the opposite: a symptom of neglect.

It's also the sort of story that sends struggling parents into a panic about the consequences of rearing Digital Natives - those children who are born into a world of instant internet access.

We've got an iPad, you see. It's the earliest model, given to me as a present. Technologists say that for an invention to be truly innovative, it should look like magic.

The first app I played with was Koi Pond. It showed a picture of a life-like, ornamental pond lined with mosaic tiles. To a sound track of oriental music, a fish would quietly swim across the screen. If you tapped the screen, your finger created a ripple and the fish would startle and swim away. You could hear the drip like sound as your fingers "touched" the water. It was so real; so cool and just like magic.

I reacted like my granny did when we showed her a fax machine. Amazed and astounded. How old does that make me sound?

I don't know what invention will make my toddler feel like that, because he's grown up with the iPad. The leap from computer to touchscreen has had its biggest impact on the pre-school child.

shame

They can't control a computer because they need to know how to type and spell. With a touchscreen, it couldn't be simpler. Point and swipe. It's so easy a toddler can do it.

Very quickly he learned to identify the YouTube app and how to tap on "history". This displays a screen of recently-watched videos, all of which feature Mister Maker Shapes. Mister Maker is a Make&Do expert on CBeebies, and he's got a little sketch featuring four life-sized shapes.

There's a circle, square, triangle and rectangular. They sing, do a little dance and declare their shape to the audience.

He'd get the iPad and go off into a corner for ages, picking out various versions of the video to watch. He could pause and play the videos, turn the volume up and down and discover related videos. He loves it, and for shame I let him at it because with him entertained I could get on with all my jobs in peace. Yes, I know, Bad Mother, but Bad Mother with a lot to do.

I justified the screen time to myself and those who judge because he was now geometrically skilled. When not engrossed in YouTube he ran around identifying shapes. Plate! Circle! Woohoo! This internet! It's so great. It's not about time wasting - he's learning!

That was all very well until he started babbling round the house and I thought his speech, not particularly advanced anyway (thus leading to many internal worries about the damage his screen time was doing to his vocabulary), had regressed.

But his older brothers, who were keeping a closer eye on his iPad activities than me, revealed that he wasn't mindlessly babbling. Apparently, someone had dubbed Mister Maker's shows in Spanish.

The more my little fella watched, the higher up the Spanish versions appeared in his "history". The "I am a circle" lyric was now "Soy un circulo". Talk about mixed feelings.

I'm kinda impressed that he can use technology to entertain himself; appalled that he's clearly been let loose on the internet for too long, and both impressed and appalled for unknowingly acquiring a foreign language.

tantrums

So look, I did what any parent with a conscience would do. I hid the iPad, and put up with a couple of tantrums while I made efforts to get him going at a jigsaw. But he started grabbing my iPhone and working that just as quickly, screeching when I locked the screen.

I had already accepted with my older sons that it's pointless keeping them off screens and away from the internet. This is their world and it's as important for them to know their way around it as we did our neighbourhood.

So when the chores and phone calls are piling up and I need a time-out, I break out the iPad and let him at it. Maybe he'll learn a few more languages and I'll have a Little Einstein after all.

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