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iPadding toddlers: When is it too soon?

Bryson Somers, age 2, sits on his mom

Bryson Somers, age 2, sits on his mom Kimberly Somers's lap while playing on the iPad at home in Middle Island. (Nov. 16, 2011) Credit: Heather Walsh

When Christina Braband and her 4-year-old son, Luke, load the car to head from Yaphank to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving tomorrow, you can bet they won't forget one crucial item: the iPad.

Luke knows how to access apps he loves -- Disney's "Where's My Water?" and a "Cars 2" app that he uses with an "App Mate," a plastic car he manipulates atop the screen to make it look like it's driving through Car Town.

"If he had the password to buy these apps, he'd probably empty my bank account," Braband jokes. It's a toss-up who likes the iPad more -- Luke loves playing with it, and Braband loves that it lets her accomplish housework and cooking, and, of course, entertains Luke in the car. "I'm able to do what I need to get done," she says.

Tablets, smartphones and other sophisticated technological products have made their way into the preschool, toddler and even the baby set. According to a new poll by Common Sense Media, close to 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds have used a smartphone, tablet or video iPod and 10 percent of children younger than 2 have. The devices keep kids busy at restaurants, in doctors' waiting rooms, in airport terminals, anyplace where a kid might be miserable and bored being confined or where parents would like them to sit quietly and behave.

"I've been seeing more and more electronics at the table," says Mike Esposito, owner of Vittorio's Restaurant & Wine Bar in Amityville. "It's second nature now with parents. They settle into their seats, open their bags, and out come Leapfrog computers, iPod Touches, and iPads. I've noticed them watching TV shows like 'Barney' and playing video games. I don't remember the last time I saw a parent with a coloring book or crayons."


The devices have become so incorporated into culture that the Brookstone holiday catalog this year, for instance, shows a young child sitting under a table at a grown-ups' holiday party playing with an iPad while the adults are drinking wine and mingling. As with other screen entertainment, opinions are divided into whether screen time is good or evil for children so young. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, recently recommended that children younger than 2 watch no television.

"Most people don't realize what is best for children's brain development," argues Deborah McNelis, who developed the Milwaukee-based company Brain Insights. Her company sells activity packets the size of a deck of cards that give parents ideas for simple, hands-on, interactive activities they can do with their child instead of handing them an iPad, and is test marketing an app called "Love your Baby" so parents can access the alternative activity suggestions with their iPads.

Others see the iPad, for instance, as another avenue for learning. Jennifer Cunningham-Lozano of Patchogue plans to launch "The Book Nook Center" on the North Shore in the spring, offering "Mommy and Me"-type classes that incorporate the iPad into the 45-minute experience. Participants will first read a book together, then play with an app related to the book topic, and then make a craft. She'll offer classes for ages 8 months to 18 months, 18 months to 21/2 years, and 21/2 years to 4. "I think if you make it an interactive, educational screen time, it doesn't make them into couch potatoes," Cunningham-Lozano says.


Linda Higgins of Smithtown, grandmother of 2-year-old Zachary Higgins of Shoreham, says she lets her grandson watch "Toy Story" and listen to music on her iPhone. He'll also listen to music, sometimes even Beethoven. "He'll hold my phone and he dances," she says.

As with anything in life, the key is moderation, says Higgins. "I don't use it as a baby-sitter. I don't say, 'Here Zachary, go play with Grandma's iPhone while I go watch TV.'"

Kimberly Somers of Middle Island says her son, Bryson, who just turned 2 in September, loves to watch videos on her iPad and play with an app called "Zoo Train." "It teaches about puzzles, letter recognition, even making words," she says of the app. "I can't sit there all day with flashcards with him. He'll get bored. This is an interactive way for him to learn."

She says even though she's handing over a device that costs close to $500 to a toddler, she would prefer that to allowing him on her PC or laptop. "At this age I wouldn't let him on my computer for fear that he'll push something wrong and erase my whole hard drive." She's not as concerned about him messing up apps on the iPad. "He knows how to tap it twice so it will open. My husband and I are amazed that he is picking up this technology at age 2."


Jennifer Cunningham-Lozano of Patchogue plans to open the Book Nook Center in the spring, offering “Mommy and Me”-type classes that incorporate children’s books and related iPad apps. Here are three that she recommends after testing them out with her 2-year-old son, Dylan.

-My Numbers by Emantras Inc.: Helps identify numbers

-Animal Fun by Brian Pfeil: See and hear the sounds animal make

-Pre-K Letters and Numbers by BrightStart LLC: Read, write and count

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