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Are you worried about your toddler’s touchscreen time?

16 Jun 2016

How to make technology beneficial for your child’s early learning

Technology is part of everyday life and toddlers are using touchscreens almost before they can walk and talk. A new survey from the National Literacy Trust and Pearson shows almost all families (97%) own touchscreens, and the ease for small fingers of swiping or tapping a touchscreen makes it likely  that pre-school children will copy their parents’ use of tablets and smartphones.

But with this has come understandable concern about the impact that ubiquitous technology can have on young minds and a worry that the experience could have a negative impact on a child’s physical and social development.[1]  

The good news is that technology can play an important role in supporting early communication, language and literacy by offering new opportunities, such as interactive and intuitive story telling e-books and apps. If used correctly the interactive nature and sensory stimulation of technology can help young children to learn in new ways alongside books. In addition, technology can provide an important route in to reading for certain groups of children, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds and boys[2].  However, researchers, early years workers and specialists all agree that technology should not be used as a replacement for adult interaction, but as another tool for teaching.

In our third annual Early Years Literacy Survey of 1,300 parents: The Use of Technology to Support Literacy in the Early Years in 2015, three quarters (74.1%) of mums and dads say they are confident using technology to share stories with their young children; roughly the same amount as those who are confident using  books (78.1%). However the survey shows that just 37.8% of parents say they use technology to look at stories during a typical week and they support their children less actively when sharing stories on touchscreens, with only 57.1% talking about a story with their child compared to 80.1% while looking at a book. This indicates a need for advice for parents to help their children use technology in ways that will actively develop their early learning.

To guide parents on using touchscreens with their pre-school children, the National Literacy Trust has produced a short film including these top tips:   

  • Be a role model while you use technology yourself, thinking aloud and explaining your thought processes
  • Help your child learn while they play by showing them new words, stories, games and songs
  • Ask your child questions about what they are doing as they use technology and respond to the answers
  • Find stories and songs in your own language to share with children
  • Children will want to copy you, so involve them in simple digital tasks, for example making an online shopping list

The National Literacy Trust has also designed an app guide called  to help parents who are unsure which tablet and smartphone apps could help to develop their child’s early communication, language and literacy, broken down by age range and interest. Plus, our Words for Life website has been updated with age-specific guidance, tips and ideas for using technology at home.

Charlotte Billington, Early Years Project Manager at the National Literacy Trust, said:

“Almost every family has a touchscreen at home so it is likely that young children will want to copy their parents when they see them using tablets and smartphones. However there is little guidance available for mums and dads who are unsure how to use technology in the most beneficial ways for their pre-school children. Although parents will naturally have concerns about screen time, technology can be used in positive ways alongside books to help children learn.

“Our exciting new  guide, video and updated Words for Life website all offer parents tips on using technology to support their children’s early literacy development, which our research shows can particularly benefit boys and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.”


[1] Billington, C (2016) How digital technology can support early language and literacy outcomes in early years settings: A review of the literature.  

[2] Formby, S (2014) Children’s early literacy practices at home and in early years settings: Second annual survey of parents and practitioners. National Literacy Trust. Pearson.

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The National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260 and a company limited by guarantee no. 5836486 registered in England and Wales and a registered charity in Scotland no. SC042944.
Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.