How Digital Media Supports Learning in Children

Deanna Glick essentials

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The Fred Rogers Center has devoted a lot of time to exploring the topic of digital media and young children. While the topic often sparks skepticism about its value or even concerns about potential damage, the FRC has found digital media can have many benefits when used correctly. Here’s a summary of the findings:

Media can help young children learn.

Technology and interactive media can be effective tools for learning in early childhood programs, in libraries, museums, and other informal education settings, and at home with parents.

Media should be used in developmentally appropriate ways.

Children under age 2 should be using media with an adult.

Don’t insert technology when a real-world experience will do.

Kids need to dig in the dirt, experience the natural world, and read actual books. Technology should be used to enhance what’s already going on in kids’ lives and in their classrooms, not supplant it.

Time with adults still matters most.

Learning is most likely to occur when children are having warm, language-rich interaction with their adult caregivers. When using media with children, parents and educators should always ask themselves whether this kind of interaction is also happening.

Promote Creativity.

Developmental psychologists tell us that creative play helps children learn to understand themselves and other people, and the world and their place in it. With children exposed to digital tools at younger ages, parents and caregivers need to ensure that digital tools enhance and don’t detract from this critical creative exploration.

Diversity matters.

Diversity means more than just race or gender. Adults should be choosing media for their children that show characters who act, talk, and communicate in a diverse ways and whose lives reflect their real experiences.

Pay attention to context.

Parents should pay attention to what’s going on in the home and family while the child is using media. Media scholar Daniel Anderson says having a television on in the background can interfere with babies’ and toddlers’ natural play. “The TV sports program may distract the child from constructive toy play,” he writes. “The parent updating Facebook may be unresponsive to the child’s social bids, and the teen game player is unavailable to read to his younger sibling.”

Seek guidance from experts.

Luckily there are many places to turn, such as Common Sense Media, which has online ratings and reviews for parents and educators, as well as app-organizing systems like Yogi Play that prod parents and educators to become critical thinkers about how to use and choose digital media for young children.

Finally, parents might consider exploring K12’s rich selection of educational games and activities and mobile apps as well as our new Pre-K learning program to find out how children can benefit from these innovative learning tools.


Deanna Glick is Senior Editor of Learning Liftoff. She has spent two decades as a writer and editor, covering education policy, adoption, and other issues of interest to children and families. Deanna has also worked and volunteered for youth-focused nonprofits, including Students Run LA and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She often finds writing inspiration through her 8-year-old daughter, who loves to read, paint, play sports and learn.


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