With the advent of educational games, iPhones are being used as pacifiers. If a child is bored, crying or generally being obnoxious, the smartphone gets stuck in their hands like a pacifier gets stuck into their mouths. Sometimes the games are geared towards education, but most often they’re disguised as such while actually just being distractors for young minds.

But, the iPhone is the pacifier that you don’t have to be weaned off of. There’s a benefit to growing up around technology that may later hold your textbooks and school assignments as online learning becomes the norm. Students whose parents handed off the iPhone are going to be intimately familiar with these devices. When they get iPads in school (which is becoming increasingly more prevalent), they’re already going to know the current iOS platform. Compared to children who are just learning how to slide to unlock, they’re leaps and bounds ahead the minute they walk in the door.

Traditionalists say that children should be reading and playing, not glued to video game screens and smartphones. They say that games have little to no meaning and can’t be educational based on their very method of delivery. They say that gamers are wasting their time.
They’re wrong.

Learning can happen in games, and for many students, that’s where it can happen best. Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken,” said in her TED talk “Gaming can make a better world” that games are the best chance we have of making it through the next century.

She argues that gamers have an optimism, a willingness to take immediate action, and an ability to take joy in their work if it has meaning that non-gamers can’t understand. Games, educational and otherwise, make us better people by giving us a format to see growth and ‘leveling’ easier. If you have to spend 10 levels killing wild boars to get to a place where you can finally go up against an orc, you’re going to learn the value of working hard.

The difference, of course, between being a pacifier you can take to school, and one that teaches you how to speak Spanish is based on the intent of the developer. Just as Oscar Wilde claimed there is no evil book, there is also no evil in technology, except in how it’s used.

If you’re raising your kid to use the iPhone as a gateway to the world, you need to filter the types of games they’re playing and the apps they’re using.

Look for apps like Pop Math Lite or Brain Toot that have a solid, educational premise, but are still entertaining enough that kids will want to play them. When games are directly aimed at learning, educating your kids through your smartphone becomes more effective. There are games targeted towards reading and games that talk about history and the moon. With a little bit of digging around, you can ensure that your child has access to the best head start possible.

If they’re given an iPhone as their first piece of technology and they’re taught that its primary use is for learning, that’s also going to shape how they view the PC they’ll use in school and eventually, the Mac Book you’ll buy them for college.

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