7 Ways Screen Time Can Improve Learning

With the seemingly unstoppable rise of computer use in children, you can read about screen time's negative effects until your eyes bleed. But computers aren't only for leisure time; more and more kids are using computers as educational devices. The Internet is like a limitless textbook and educational games teach academic subjects in new, fun ways. These are just scratching the surface of educational technology, which some people hope will change education in drastic ways. Recent studies back them up, showing how games and other technologies can quickly improve children's learning—and their test scores. Read on for facts, figures and opinions from educators that may change your idea of screen time for children.

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By Lauren Katulka

We’ve all been cautioned against the dangers of too much screen time. But recent studies suggest time spent on the computer could actually improve your child’s grades.

Almost two-thirds of kids play computer games for leisure, and half of all 5-year-olds use a computer or tablet regularly. This early familiarity with computers makes them effective teaching tools. See the seven ways screen time can help, not hurt, your child’s learning experience.

Boosting Literacy Levels

In a 2013 study, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Australia found that computer use improved the literacy of preschool-age children. Time spent interacting with traditional keyboards and touch screens helped 4-year-olds recognize letters—the building block to early reading and spelling—more often than their peers.

Training Young Brains

A 2011 study from the University of Michigan found brain-training computer games boosted the grades of 8- and 9-year-olds within weeks. The students used the programs, which tested the brain’s ability to hold information, for 15 minutes each day. Three months after the testing period, participating students still scored better than the control group on abstract reasoning and problem solving questions.

Individualizing Challenges

A child can work through a computer program at his own pace, receiving instant feedback about his achievements. Students struggling to pick up the material can spend more time on it, while high achievers can race ahead without the risk of boredom. It’s difficult for teachers to cater to the abilities of all students, but computers do so effortlessly.

Facilitating Communication

While computers can take users out of a social setting, Nancy Caruso, assistant head of school at Massachusetts’ Beaver Country Day School, says she’s found they foster communication between students and their teachers and peers. “Some students find their voices more readily in online discussion forums,” she says. “Teachers have observed that students often write more detailed and thoughtful reflections online than they had done previously on paper, theorizing that when students know they are writing for a larger and even public audience, it adds another layer of accountability and pride of ownership.”

Making Learning Fun

Students can be easily frustrated when they don’t learn a skill quickly, especially kids with learning disabilities, but the playful tone of many computer programs ensures that children have fun without realizing they’re learning, says Tosin Williams, a former educator and founder of online tutoring service The Learning Period. “Computer activities help disguise the active aspect of learning, leading to greater confidence in the child, which in turn leads to increased learning,” she says.

Learning Foreign Languages

The self-paced nature of computer programs is what makes them particularly beneficial for learning a second language, which often requires more repetition than other subjects, Williams says. “Mastery of a language is due in large part to guided repetition,” she explains. “Computer programs can allow for this.” Students can repeat similar drills until they master a topic and move on, rather than being pushed ahead before they’re ready.

Explaining Math Concepts

Williams says math-themed computer games can help students master a range of number skills by generating fresh number sets for similar math problems. “Students are better able to apply a series of steps to solve novel problems after they have spent time with resources,” she says.

In an ideal world, students would receive all they need to excel in the classroom. But with only so many hours in the day and teachers spread among their students, computers help provide the intensive instruction and instant feedback that students don’t always receive, and ultimately help them reach their potential.

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