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December 17, 2012

Tempted to buy your tot an iPad? As teaching tools, news is mixed

(Continued)

The idea that children don't learn from screens until 30 months of age does not square with Sanders' experience.

"When there's a child who can take technology and make it her own in 10, 15 minutes, I think there's something to be said for that kid. I wouldn't want to hinder her abilities," Sanders says. "This is the world we live in. Why stop children from learning about technology?"

Like many parents, Mistrett is more conflicted. She typically eschews battery-operated toys in favor of pretend and exploratory play and time on the playground.

"But the 1-year-old can already swipe to unlock my iPhone, so that's where I contradict myself," she says.

She also sees some benefits to touch-screen technology. All of the swiping can help develop fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and such apps as "LetterSchool" can help with handwriting skills. The devices also motivate kids to stay focused: "If you hand them the screen, they could go for hours," Mistrett says.

To minimize the temptation for kids to do nothing but swipe, Mistrett and her husband have drawn limits for their children. She set up her iPad so that her 3-year-old son can access only his own apps. Mistrett allows him to play on the tablet a couple of times a day for 10-to-15- minute stretches.

Rich and other experts say that if parents are going to allow their kids to use an iPad, they should sit and play along with them. That way, the parent is the teacher, rather than the technology.

"The fact that Mom hugs the child when she gets something right, the tone in Mom's voice — none of that can be conveyed by the iPad," Rich says.

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