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Column: What would Jean Piaget say?

I recently Googled some information from the Internet about two distinctly different subjects.

One was about Jean Piaget, who was a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher born 1896 and who died in 1980. Piaget placed great importance on the education of children. In particular, he developed theories that zero in on how children explore things in the environment and how kids learn more and more about the world of toys and playthings through repeated explorations.

The second subject had to do with technology such as the iPad. Ideas came flying into my brain about how young children might interact with current technology such as the iPad, which I have written about in previous opinion pages of our newspaper. So, like I said, I recently worked up the courage to ask this question: What would Piaget say or think about our current trends in introducing the young child to some of our most cool and popular devices? So, I came up with…Piaget and the iPad. This may sound farfetched, but a study popped up immediately called “Piaget’s iPad: From theory to Practice.” No joke. It’s out there.

There is so much to know about Jean Piaget and so many different models of development that he proposed and professed: sociological, intellectual, figurative thought among others. So…why am I bothering myself and all of you about Jean Piaget and his models of development? When I saw this study about Piaget’s iPad, I couldn’t help but wonder what these people are claiming and why, because we all know how much everyone is yacking about the iPad and its wizardry.

Piaget had many theories about how children develop, and how to differentiate and to integrate what they have learned. He claimed that children spend a great deal of time discovering the many fascinating things that they can do with toys and objects that exist all around them. And when children play repeatedly with these toys, they eventually come up with new levels of knowledge and insight.

So, here comes the iPad! Where are all of the objects, millions of them, stored inside the iPad? And how can one small flat rectangular thing-a-ma-bob contain all of these kazillion objects and hence experiences that children do with the objects? According to Piaget, will these kiddos be able to identify objects by way of the different kinds of actions they can do via the iPad? Where do the objects go? If I was a child today, I would wonder? I would try to reach inside the iPad and pull out all of these amazing things. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you just want to reach inside that thing, that iPad and search around with your hands and fingers and magically touch all of those xylophones and Goofy cartoon characters and whizzing spinning tops and letters marching across the screen and find Buzz Light Year and his Toy Story friends all jumbled up inside that thing?

We know that children are naturally curious and upon seeing this amazing thing of light appear with so many various objects, all flat and two dimensional, wouldn’t you just want to toddle your way over to the flat thing lying on the counter and touch that screen and learn how to navigate the iPad? The article I found claims that toddlers interact with the iPad in coordination with Piaget’s “sensorimotor stage” of development, that describes “the period from 0-2 years when sensory and motor skills are a primary medium for learning.” The authors go on to say that this sensorimotor stage “describes many iPad apps. which offer a visual, tactile and auditory experience that is highly interesting and motivating for young children.”

As the subject continues, I invite the public to look this up and arrive at your own conclusions. I guess I just don’t feel that children, from 0 to 2 years need to bump into the iPad at all. What they need is good old fashioned stuff that is real, that they can honestly touch and grasp and hold onto in real time, on real carpets and blankies, with their real moms and dads playing with them. Perhaps I will be viewed as a blast from the past, but with Piaget in mind, I don’t believe that he would want his name in associated with this tech hungry group who insist that such young children become fused with the iPad. Objects need to be explored in real ways that have meaning and intent for the young child. How can the 2-year-old get her hands around a fuzzy wuzzy bear and know what that fuzz really is, if only to tap at the image of such fuzz on the screen of the iPad when it’s not fuzzy and it’s not wuzzy? It does not compute with me. Does it compute with you?

I feel that Piaget, if he were to take a second look at the iPad, might just toss it in the nearest cubby hole and prefer the real plinks of the xylophone that his child has discovered on the table. Perhaps, many of these tech hungry researchers are trying just a little too hard to hustle the young child into the adult world. We know that will happen eventually. Please give children a chance to be kids who will know about the real world of wonder, nature, love and beauty that is evident, all around them. The iPad can wait….and although Jean Piaget is gone from our midst, his name does not need to be connected with the iPad or any other type of flat two dimensional screen.

Jane Kronheim lives in Harrisville.

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