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The Right Technology for Kids at Every Age

Jon Whittle (photo) / Monika Melnychuk (illustration)

3 TO 4 YEARS: The Swiper

1. Regularly uses a tablet— yours or her own

2. Plays apps that feature simple puzzles and matching games

The iPad is a great platform for handeye coordination, a skill that will serve your child well later, from writing legibly in school to playing sports. Not to mention that in the modern era of technology, we’ve evolved from type to touch to swipe. Thanks to her growing mastery of fi ne motor skills, she’ll be a natural cruising through the tablet’s touchscreen.

But according to Dr. Karp, it’s the variety of apps that makes the iPad such a valuable alternative to other media. “Apps provide a far more beneficial level of engagement than TV ,” he explains. “The interactive experience engages the child much more so than when she’s just absorbing TV images. From a developmental point of view, interactive entertainment is a better option.”

Download iPad apps that match the milestones children traditionally reach at this age, such as matching objects and completing simple puzzles. Giraffe’s Matching Zoo (free; itunes.com) strengthens memory muscles, while Monkey Preschool Lunchbox ($1; itunes .com) is all about matching colors and counting fruit.

Of course, the iPad features a lot of perks kids don’t need (e-mail, Internet, instant messaging), so it was only a matter of time before they got their own. VTech’s new InnoTab ($80; vtechkids.com) has all the just-like-Mom’s functionality (touchscreen, music and video player, 64 MB of memory), but it’s tooled for tots (e-book reader, art studio, and educational games).

 

4 TO 5 YEARS: The World Wide Wanderer

1. Uses the Internet under supervision

2. Plays active video games with the family

3. Time to create a new definition of “screen time”

Besides all the giggles sites like Nick Jr. and PBS Kids Sprout can provide, exposure to computers is important for preschoolers because they’re playing an increasingly prominent role in education. (When it comes to apples in the classroom, the iMac has replaced the Granny Smith .)

But we can’t forget that “the Internet has countless dark alleys that you don’t want your child stumbling upon,” explains Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute, in Newport Beach, CA.

The key here is supervision. Whether it’s playing Jake’s Jungle Groove on the Disney Junior website or watching that amazing octopus video on YouTube (search “invisible octopus”), do it together. Forget about tracking software: You are the most effective monitoring device.

A few new physical milestones (mastery of running and kicking, and bending over without falling) combined with the social ability to take turns means he’s ready for active video games on the Wii or Xbox 360. But video games should be a family bonding experience. Forty-five percent of moms report that they play games together as a family on a videogame console, according to a recent Parenting-BlogHer survey. So treat it as a family activity.

Some of the best all-ages games on the Wii are Just Dance Kids and Epic Mickey (splash color on a monochromatic landscape to bring it to life). If you’re not sure about a game’s content, use the Entertainment Software Rating Board app (free; itunes.com). Snap a photo of the game box or enter the game’s title, and you’ll score all the information you need. Keep in mind that your child’s exposure to the digital world compounds as he gets older, so count time spent on all devices toward his daily allotted screen time.

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