By Raphael Pittman We’ve all witnessed the toddler at a restaurant or the airport navigating an iPad like a pro. Tablets occupy adults and entertain children, yet this electronic babysitter isn’t all that bad or uncommon. Forty percent of kids age 8 or younger have a tablet, according to the report Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013 from Common Sense Media. Mobile devices don’t discriminate against age, and The Boston Globe reports that 72 percent of kids younger than 8 use a mobile device, and 38 percent of kids age 2 and younger use mobile devices. Tablet Game & App Pros Calling these devices modern-day toys that entertain and teach children is not inaccurate. Dr. Dmitri Christakis, a child development researcher, provides research that supports the upside of tablets as a growing and learning tool. Nothing can replace the experience of a parent reading aloud to a child, for example, but tablets can meet the needs of children. Tablets are reactive and interactive customizable devices that educate and foster child development. Education Week draws attention to the term “gamification,” which is the concept of using game mechanics and design in non-game contexts. In this context, gaming is designed to engage children and promote problem solving. All types of educational and non-educational games “improve decision-making and encourage self-expression in children,” according to Cheryl Olson, who wrote Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development. Other child-developed skills include knowledge absorption, motor tuning, and the ability to strategize. Game-based learning is not only introduced at home, but in classrooms as well. Games such as Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and SimCity are commercial games used by educators. Game Playing Pointers for Parents Christakis advises parents to be involved in their children’s tablet activities and game playing. Parents should initiate conversation, nurture the experience, and guide the digital interaction. Also, ensure balance and variety. Along with playing tablet games, make sure your child still runs around outside, makes things, pretends, and plays with toys—such as blocks—for language development. Plan a “media diet,” suggests the The American Academy of Pediatrics. Supervise your child’s media intake, including the type of media, quantity and length of time, as well as when and where it’s used. As the holidays, Cyber Monday, and Black Friday approach, keep in mind a tablet may just be a gift the entire family can enjoy. Shop for deals on toys and games as well as educational apps for the family tablet. The following tablet apps and games rated on Common Sense Media can stimulate thinking and learning for your child. • Elmo Loves ABCs for iPad (Reading): Alphabet learning through letter tracing and recognition, sounds, and word identification • Bob Books #1 and #2 – Reading Magic (Reading): Interactive reading and spelling through a 12-page book • Grover’s Number Special (Math): Counting and number recognition by helping Grover make and serve lunch to customers • TallyTots (Math): Counting to 20 through fun activities • SpinArt (Creativity): Finger painting using a paint spinning wheel • 123D Sculpt (Creativity): Molding and painting clay into one-of-a-kind sculptures Rafael Pittman has his master’s in education administration and reports on trends in the classroom.