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Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone? Print E-mail
Written by Marc Prensky   
Aug 24, 2009 at 03:44 PM
Marc Prensky
For our twenty-first century kids, technology is their birthright

When I recently upgraded my iPhone 3G to the 3Gs (after almost 1 year, so I got the discount) I had to decide what to do with the old one.  My 4-year-old son was clamoring for it, and I said OK.  But then I thought about it. It’s a pretty expensive, complex, breakable, adult device. Should a 4-year-old really have an iPhone?

My answer, after only a couple of months, is absolutely—with only a few caveats. The first is that I bought him a nice bright red safety case, so that he could find the iPhone easily, differentiate it from mine, and hopefully not break it if he dropped it (although as far as I know, that hasn’t actually happened.) Second, I disabled the phone function, so he can’t make or receive calls. Although he would no doubt enjoy calling his friends and relatives, given ATT’s rates, it makes sense for him not to be randomly calling around the world, (Whether they would like hearing from him with the frequency he might choose is another matter.)

So actually he has an iTouch, rather than an iPhone, with the latest phone OS.  He is, though, connected quite robustly to the Internet via our home Wi-Fi, and he/we will certainly try some VoIP apps in the future.

What He Does

iphoneWhat has he used his iPhone for (almost entirely without my guidance)?  His favorite thing is voice recording. He sings, he makes up conversations, he runs his imaginary taxi business. He records in a couple of ways. Sometimes he uses the recording app which is part of the 3.0 software.  At other times he uses the recorder built into his “Wheels on the Bus” app. 

I downloaded The Wheels on the Bus  for him the other night, along with a couple of matching games and some writing/reading programs (i.e. forming letters, recognizing words) from the App store. He was excited to wake up and find all the new icons on the screen. I was about to suggest he start with The Wheels on the Bus , but he went straight there without me (good icon!)  He has since started up and used on his own all the apps I downloaded.

iPod?  He uses it often. His favorite song is Michael Jackson’s ABC, which, somehow, he again found without me.

Camera?  He uses it all the time. I did have to teach him that photographing his private parts was not such a good idea, even though he was SOO proud of himself for doing it.

iphoneInternet?  He’s explored, but the absence of Flash is so far the biggest disappointment, as he can’t play Curious George and his other favorite games. But according to Gear Live, that’s “just around the corner.” Webkinz and Club Penguin will probably come as soon as it does.

Writing?  He does lots of it, using the on-screen keyboard.  And while it looks like gibberish to me, he knows exactly what it says and to whom it is addressed (Also part of the taxi business, I think.).

Reading? We’ve begun to read simple words and stories together. Reading on the iPhone is great!

Oh yes, plenty of drawing, coloring and stamping.  He also regularly checks the date, the weather around the world, and the maps when we travel.

The most interesting thing to me was that he asked the other day if there were any games I could get him.  I said “You have lots of educational games.”  His answer: I don’t want educational games, I want fun games like on the DS.” Well here they come, with a motion sensor!

So should you give your 4-year-old an iPhone (or at least an iTouch)?  My answer is that, if you can afford it, why would you deprive them?  And if you can’t, there ought to be public subsidies. In fact, every kid in school—especially primary school—should have one.

So watch out computer, watch out DS, watch out educators. The kids are coming to claim their birthright, and the world will never be the same.

Marc PrenskyMarc Prensky is an internationally acclaimed thought leader, speaker, writer, consultant, and game designer in the critical areas of education and learning.  He is the author of Digital Game-Based Learning (McGraw Hill, 2001) and Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning (Paragon House, 2006).  Marc is the founder and CEO of Games2train, a game-based learning company, whose clients include IBM, Bank of America, Pfizer , the U.S. Department of Defense and the LA and Florida Virtual Schools.  He is also the  creator of the sites www.SocialImpactGames.com, and www.GamesParentsTeachers.com.  Marc holds an MBA from Harvard and a Masters in Teaching from Yale.  More of his writings can be found at www.marcprensky.com/writing/default.asp.  Marc can be contacted at marc@games2train.com.
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Comments from the forum:
Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?
jnxyz    August 25th, 2009 - 9:49 AM
I have a 2 year old who's been a heavy iPhone user since about 1 year old - altho I have to remember to turn on airplane mode - tho she can sometimes turn that off now!). Video of her has made her the star of a few of my mLearning presentations. She started off on Clara (match animals to sound) and has graduated thru some flash card apps to Feed me from Pencil Bot which is just fantastic. She can turn it on, unlock it, swipe to the app she wants, launch it, dismiss popup messages... So I figure that proves the ease of use of the interface! Ta for sharing your stories too Mark - we know not what is 'normal' anymore for what these kids can do.

[blockquote][span class=open]F[/span]or our twenty-first century kids, technology is their birthright[span class=close]t[/span][/blockquote]

When I recently upgraded my iPhone 3G to  the 3Gs (after almost 1 year, so I got the discount) I had to decide what to do  with the old one.  My 4-year-old son was  clamoring for it, and I said OK.  But  then I thought about it. It’s a pretty expensive, complex, breakable, adult  device. Should a 4-year-old really have  an iPhone?

My answer, after . . .
Re: Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?
satonner    August 27th, 2009 - 6:06 PM
Yes, yes and yes.  The question is should a 4-year old NOT have an iPhone!  For the past few years handheld learning has been at the heart of my teaching with children and now is part of my research as a lecturer in primary education.  Children are comfortable with devices that are interactive, meet their learning styles (auditory, visual ...) and enable instant access.  Our classrooms today can sometimes be the opposite, where the interaction is the teacher with the IWB and too much waiting to access technology at an ICT suite, or wait for a scheduled slot for the laptops or a camera where the batteries are needing charged!  The iPhone overcomes these problems by providing a multitude of tools in a child's hand making learning personal and connected.

I enjoyed your post.

Thank you,

Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?
Klaasdahaas    September 7th, 2009 - 9:12 PM
Nice post,don't we all make photo's of our genetals... just joking!

I believe children should be allowed a iPhone but not forced upon a iPhone. I believe in children naturally playing and in that way "almost always" doing what they like. If the child includes the iPhone in this it will be a good thing for a parent because it will improve the technological coping skills of the child. We can see amazing new uses of the iPhone, (I love the taxi manager thing) and if we examine this natural play well we can generate input for improving our learning applications.
What age can we should we force a iPhone upon our child, hmm, should we ever, I believe yes and compare it to typing blindly, a important skill. Forced use at the age of 12, (like the time I was forced to get a complex calculator, for my math classes).

Nice post again,

Re: Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?
pmayell    September 8th, 2009 - 10:47 AM
You all put forward very convincing arguments for this proposal but are you all in danger of missing the point about the education of the very young? The iPhone is a nice toy (word chosen deliberately) for a 4 year old to play with but surely young children should be encouraged by educators and parents to interact more with other children to establish positive social skills. Using a device like an iPhone is, for a young child, shutting them off from their peers on a face to face basis. They should be playing with other children and learning 'real' life skills.
Re: Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?
Spike Town    September 8th, 2009 - 10:19 PM
I think you make a good point pmayell but at the same time, in what way do children interact? I once saw a lovely use of an interactive whiteboard by two kids, no teacher in sight. there was a daft game about vowels or something where a rabbit had to run down a track. The game was supposed to teach phonics, whether it did or not I'm not sure. What I can be sure of is that two four year olds had a conversation about tactics and the girl then demonstrated what to do to complete the level before then letting the boy try (and he was successful). It was a superb example of peer learning, social interaction, learning to collaborate etc. Now the iphone, or any toy (glove puppet for example) will have the same effect. What is often a key factor is the ethos and expectations of the adults around the children. How often is a dvd player used to keep children quiet rather than give them something to talk about?

If you are talking life skills then I would suggest that a strong awareness of technology ang how it brings people together is one of the modern glues in society. When I was a lad you mentioned the weather in a lull in a conversation, nowadays people seem to whip out an HTC Hero or similar and show the latest app. It becomes the oil that lubricates the conversation.

I think what modern devices bring though is an ease of use so that the children often can grasp quickly what to do and then it can become the basis of a discussion, showing off or whatever!

Would like to hear other views from early years practitioners though,


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