In the April 2013 issue of The Atlantic, author and national correspondent Hannah Rosin takes a long look at The Touch-Screen Generation: the current under-10 set who are just as familiar with Angry Birds as they are Goodnight Moon.
While attending a California conference for developers of children’s apps, a rapidly expanding industry that has some jumping on the “digital education is the future” bandwagon and others longing for less tech-trendy days, she pontificates:
“What, really, would Maria Montessori have made of this scene? The 30 or so children here were not down at the shore poking their fingers in the sand or running them along mossy stones or digging for hermit crabs. Instead they were all inside, alone or in groups of two or three, their faces a few inches from a screen, their hands doing things Montessori surely did not imagine.”
After interviewing various experts, researchers and psychologists — and conducting informal experiments with her own toddler — Rosin ends up echoing the beliefs of Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician who directs the Center on Media and Child Health. As quoted in this 2010 New York Times article, he says “with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, ‘like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.'”
In other words, stop setting time limits and stressing out, and just let them touch, tap and swipe away. But then, some say toddler iPad addiction is a very real thing, while studies are suggesting that too much tech time can lead to behavioral and relationship problems.
The debate goes on, even at The Atlantic. This month’s issue revived the roundtable via an interview with longtime tech executive Linda Stone. In “The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World,” she claims that tech overload can lead to a condition that is “worse than autism”, a lack of empathy, and even “a kind of sociopathy and psychopathy.”
But the app-happy parents and entrepreneurs at Rosin’s conference whimsically quote Montessori (“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence”) and emphasize their wares’ educational potential. After all, whether they are tracing a “C” on a screen, in the dirt, or on sandpaper, the end result is the same.
Others assert that technology is essentially and fundamentally Montessorian, in that it allows the individual to learn at his or her own pace, unimpeded. The world’s knowledge is, after all, at your fingertips, and the tablet is a powerful, interactive tool that arguably has its place on Montessori shelves as well as in the home. Everyone from the 2013 Ted Talk winner to forward-thinking educators agree that we need to integrate technology to prepare students for the future, as well as to empower and equip them in new, never-before-seen ways.
Somewhere there is an ideal balance to be found between hands-on, person-to-person learning, time spent playing outdoors, and Toca Tea Party. It’s up to us as parents and educators to find it.
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Foothills Montessori School is a private Montessori school serving families in Henderson, Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.