Don’t Touch The iPads!

There has been a flurry of articles published recently about tablets, and general technology use, and how overuse at home may be having a detrimental impact on early childhood development. These articles often highlight a practitioner’s viewpoint that physical development is the lowest it has ever been, that children can’t hold paintbrushes and there are no mouse or keyboard skills these days. As with most good things in life, good health and well-being comes with careful balance and always in moderation; it’s not often that a total ban is a necessary solution.

I was going to write about this, and why I think a complete ban or avoidance of technology in early years will not close the gap in physical development and social skills. I would have written something along these points:

  • We are supposed to find out what children bring to their learning, what skills they have, and develop them.
  • Technology is 1 area of learning where children’s home skills do not match the skills we want to see in learning.
  • Children are consuming content at home (watch video, play games, listen to music) and we need to teach them to create with technology (make films, code games and create music).

My point would be, if we are recognising children have an unbalanced diet with technology, that they are consuming too much content, then we should be planning for our children to learn how to create. If they learn how to create with technology, their characteristics of effective learning are enhanced. We would give them another way to express themselves, in a medium they are interested in. Then, what if, they go away and download these apps at home? Suddenly, the gaps could start to close. That children are making stunning photographs, meaningful films, collaborating and sharing their work with a real audience. Their learning becomes focused on the idea and the task… and not the device.

But I decided not to write about that.

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Instead, I want to share apps to use on 1 iPad, that require no touch at all and we can put the iPad down and make it respond to us using all of our physical skills. Those skills that we need to develop now more than ever.

Mica: Free

Download here.

This is a visual app where the graphic on screen responds to sound input from the microphone. Put the iPad on the carpet and sit around it as a group, large or small. Select one of the graphic buttons on the screen and start a rhythmic clap. What happens to the graphic on screen? Now try a round of applause. It’s lot of fun to watch how the sound you create is represented visually. This is a wonderful inclusive activity for children with hearing difficulties too. Whats more, is you could connect your iPad to a projector or large screen, turn the lights off and let the colours your sound is creating fill the room for a sensory light experience.

Speak Up: Free

Download here.

We are staying with the microphone and visual representation of sound with this one. This free app does the same as Mica but it will represent sound in different ways, such as the passage of time.

In your circle, sitting around the iPad, try that rhythmic clapping again. Observe what happens on screen with the visuals set to the bars or the timeline. Take moments of silence as well as bursts of loud sounds. You can also try using your voice; make some ‘ooooooo’ ‘aaaaaaa’ ‘eeeeeee’ sounds (and pat your hand on your lips as you do it!) This is great for reluctant speakers or non-verbal children. It makes communicating with your voice fun and takes the emphasis off of speaking words to peers.

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Seismometer 6: Free

This app will trick your young learners after controlling Mica and Speak up with their voices. Seismometer 6 responds to vibrations using the iPad gyroscope. You might want to keep your iPad on the carpet for this, or put it on a table and stand around it. From a sitting position, or whilst standing, you’re all going to stamp your feet as hard and fast as you can (you’ll be giggling too but this app doesn’t use the microphone remember!). Watch what happens to the needle on screen, it is recording your vibrations through the floor. Can you make the needle move quickly and widely or quickly and narrower?

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Metal Sniffer: Free

Download here.

This app doesn’t have to be a group activity, you can put your iPad on the table top with a range of objects that are magnetic metal and non-magnetic. It is an Understanding the World activity (with lots of communication and reasoning too). As the iPad has a magnet in it to connect accessories or attach the portfolio cover of your case, you can use it like a metal detector with this app.

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Children can place an object on to the screen, near the top around the front-facing camera, and the needle on screen will move if it is magnetic metal. There is a lot of sorting and classifying materials here but first, children need to work out why the needle moves for some objects and not others? Can they solve the puzzle by testing and categorising your collection of objects?

LightMeter: Free

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Here is a sunny app that measures light levels. Of course, your first instinct here is to hold the iPad and move it around to measure different levels of light around the room. But remember, we are not allowed to touch the iPad! So for this to work, you’ll need 1 torch and a range of filters. Put the filters over the front-facing camera and shine the light on to it. Does the number alter for different filters? How about using different torches and light sources? It’s also a great maths activity to notice numbers beyond 10 or 20.

MD Live: Free

Download here.

This has quickly become of my favourites. For this to work, you need to stand the iPad upright so that front-facing camera looks out across your group area and children can see the screen. This is a motion detector app and as you move your body, the camera detects your movements and makes this visible on screen. Try some crazy dance moves or some specific skills like jumping and hopping on the spot. Now be still. Can we be so still that the camera doesn’t detect any motion at all? Balancing and being still is hard so use this app to hold your body so still whilst you’re on one leg. This app gives a purpose to being still and having good control of those important gross motor skills (it’s a good one to put on to detect good sitting too!)

Don’t Touch the iPads.

These apps support early concepts of device control. They use a range of inputs and give a range of outputs – it’s the very beginnings of computing. These apps get your children thinking how to control a computer. But they also get them physical, vocal and talkative.

Everything we do in early years draws on skills from across our curriculum. Don’t be afraid to build technology in to other areas of learning. Use voice recordings, take photographs, create digital music, experiment with film and animation. This is all creating content and will balance out children’s consuming of content at home. Children use their technology differently at home, like us watching TV at night, they like to chill out too. But just like us, too much chill out has detrimental effects on our health and well-being. So we teach them to be active but we also need to teach them how to use their devices differently to make better choices.

Technology isn’t going away, unlike fidget spinners, this is something we can’t ban as a longterm fix. We need to become more confident in using technology as part of learning across the areas.


Thanks to Chris Carter (@CajCarter) for your engaging session and sharing these apps  last year.

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