We discuss in this article:

  1. If under 5’s should be given use of a computer tablet
  2. What it means to use a tablet appropriately
  3. Which tablet to use – some are more suited for child use 


1. Should Under 5's be given a computer tablet to use?

Many children, as young as 2 years, can easily and quickly learn to use a tablet and it can become a favourite thing to use.

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If used appropriately a computer tablet can become another tool in a parent’s and early childhood teacher’s toolbox.

But firstly, let’s be clear… if you are supporting a child to reach his/her full potential do not feel guilty about the child not having a tablet to use. A computer tablet is not necessary for learning.  It can however be a helpful aid.  

If you haven’t bought a tablet yet then dodge the hype and consider advice carefully before you jump on the expensive techy bandwagon. Many arguments for early exposure to computer and tablet games/ apps don’t stack up. Technology is simple. That’s what makes it brilliant. Children will have no problem picking up technology at primary or secondary school level. 

Unfortunately the way many parents are using TV, computers and tablets with their children creates negative outcomes. Children are simply ‘consuming’ rather than ‘creating’.  Addiction, passivity and depression have been identified as outcomes of inappropriate use. 

A child using a computer or TV also leads to reduced opportunities for key learning and development because parents turn on the TV or computer to settle an upset, angry, clingy or bored child. These moments are the best learning opportunities and when young children need a parent’s support the most. It is these challenging moments where a parent’s love, knowledge and support will help a child develop resilience, perseverance and creativity. 

Consider the table below showing the various main arguments for and against a parent buying a computer tablet for a child to use and early childhood centres providing tablets as part of the curriculum.  


Don’t buy a tablet because…


Buy a tablet because…


Boredom is a powerful motivator.

Giving a tablet to a child because they are bored will stymie their:

  • self-motivation
  • exploration
  • imagination
  • creativity
  • independence
  • experimentation.


Is another tool in the toolbox to promote child development.

Can be another means for a child to explore, imagine, create and experiment either by themselves or with others.


It will stunt a child’s holistic development.

What could have happened if you didn’t give a child a tablet?  A true story when a parent wished they had a tablet but didn’t so gave their clingy and whining child a choice – either play by themselves or help the parent with housework.  Child chose to play by themselves and during the next 90 minutes did the following:

  • learned how to balance a plate on feet while lying on the floor;
  • found some new plates in kitchen and filled them with rice bubbles;
  • ate (a lot of ) rice bubbles;
  • broke some sticks on trees outside;
  • jumped off the couch onto the bean bag (repeatedly);
  • Bulldozed his Lego blocks into a shoe box (copying a big construction happening next door);
  • Put end of cat scratcher toy in his mouth and spun it around; and
  • Looked for worms in pot plants outside.

Parent finished all housework while laughing when seeing what the child was getting up to.


Supports and extends learning

Findings of some early childhood services is that tablets, if used appropriately, support and extend children’s learning.   Auckland kindergartens have found tablets fit well with their goals for children to create, collaborate and communicate.

The right quality of apps and software will aid learning

Parent/ teacher understanding of the principals for good games/ apps can extend and support learning.

It can help children with learning difficulties

For example some research has shown children with autism have used tablets with some success to better communicate.



A good parent is ‘present’ for their child

Giving a child a phone, game, tablet, TV, etc so a you can chat to others is neglectful and excludes the child.  Even the techy experts disapprove of this parenting technique.


Increases sense of belonging and inclusion

The same as helping with the washing, changing themselves, making their own cereal, children naturally want to be a part of the techy world just like how they see their parents and other adults.  Also with the prolific use of tablets by many other children a child feels included as they get older and can join in or chat about their tablet use.


Risk of not meeting child’s needs through poor parenting

For example a child could be clingy for a number of reasons.  Far better than giving a tablet is giving a cuddle, sitting down and chatting, explaining you need to do some housework but will play for 5 minutes first, giving a choice of either playing by themselves or helping with the housework.


A lesser evil than watching TV

A child’s brain can be more active when playing with a tablet game/ app than watching TV.


Addiction, passivity and depression

Identified as very real risks for children (and adults) from over use.


Parents can set foundations for child to use technology wisely

Parents can instil in their child good habits on using technology appropriately and creatively.

Risks can be minimised

Setting rules, keeping screen time down (1-2 hours a day, 0 hours for under 2’s) and adults educating themselves on appropriate tablet use will help support and extend learning and minimise risk of addiction, passivity and depression.


2. What it means to use a tablet appropriately

Our New Zealand early childhood education sector is big on everything being ‘open’ – from the questions we ask children to the activities that children play with. 

This is so children can discover, problem-solve and create in their own way, thus developing skills and attributes for life-long learning.  It also allows adults to identify a child’s interests and stage of development which helps support and extend learning by building on these. 

An example of a closed activity is a puzzle - a child puts the pieces in their allocated places until the puzzle is completed and then this may be repeated again. A puzzle provides little room for creativity and exploration it is good for problem solving, perseverance and it can give a child a sense of pride when accomplished. 

However, compare this to an open activity such as play dough where children can create anything and can follow on to any activity, e.g. rolling up snakes, then making trees for the snakes, swapping snakes, breaking and repairing the snakes, role playing being a snake or going to the zoo… and this may lead on to lion roars, dress ups, hide and seek, …. etc.  

Right then, let’s apply this to appropriate child use of a computer tablet. Here are some uses:

  • Taking photos of their current  interest, emailing the pic or skyping their young friends and family about it.
  • Researching topics, e.g. searching Google for snakes up trees to see images, video, sound.  The tablet may be brought out for only a few minutes to extend learning, e.g. Google ‘snakes up trees’ or to find an answer to a child’s favourite question – “why”?
  • Playing with an open-ended game that links to the child’s experiences in the community, e.g. Hair Salon 2, by Toca Boca.

A tablet is just another tool and shouldn't replace other tools and activities such as gardens, books, kitchens, Lego, painting, soccer balls, zoos, parks, supermarket, café, puddles, and playground. 

Appropriate use and monitoring of screen-time will minimise the risk of passivity, addiction and depression. 

More important than the tablet, is the attention and support an adult gives a child when using the tablet because that is what builds children’s key competencies and attitudes.  


www.myece.org.nz tablet.1 image3.  Which one?  Tablets suited to children's use

If you have decided to jump on the techy bandwagon then you have another tough choice to make and this is – what tablet to get?  Hopefully this section helps with your search.

If you've got the money any of the Apple IPads are recommended. But if affordability is a real issue, another option would be a tablet such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3. NOT the Tab 3 Kids which is about $100 more expensive thus making it only $50 cheaper than the IPad Mini… you might as well just get the mini.  However, the trade off in buying the Galaxy Tab 3 instead of the IPad Mini is slower speeds and the camera quality isn’t so great.

Unfortunately, the cheapest tablets may not be up to it.  You want your new computer tablet to do what you want it to do.  It needs to be powerful and fast enough to support the appropriate apps/ games and activities. 

For example, a tempting buy is the ASUS (Google) Memo Pad however TocaBoca (a producer of reputable applications for children) lists it as a device they won’t support because it doesn’t meet the standards their applications require and thus have experienced too many problems.

One argument for getting a cheaper tablet is that if it breaks you won’t lose so much.  But, if apps/ games are lost then these can usually be retrieved without cost from the application store you purchased from. 

A second argument is that that the technology is improving so fast that it is not worth investing in a more expensive one, but if the tablet can’t achieve the goals we’re striving for then why buy it on price alone?

Make sure the computer tablet has the features a young child will use, such as a camera front and rear.  See if it has a feature where you can switch between a child’s set up and an adult’s set up.

Another concern is children inadvertently or otherwise buying new apps.  Check if the tablet and operating system allows for the purchasing process to be password protected.

A robust protective case and a screen protector are a necessity.  Don’t be tempted to use a new tablet without a case and screen protector.  Ask a friend whose child has been using a computer tablet how their protective case has performed.  


Does your child go to daycare, kindy, playcentre, preschool, language immersion centre, hospital playroom, or have a nanny or home-based educator? 

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