The growing number of children using iPads at preschools has prompted a call for educators to develop clear guidelines on using the devices safely.

Core Education consultant Tara Fagan told a cyber-safety conference in Wellington today that most kindergarten associations around New Zealand had iPads in their centres or were moving towards introducing them.

But there were no compulsory government standards on how preschools should use information technology safely with children.

Instead, it was up to individual preschools to develop their own policies and guidelines, drawing on resources from groups like NetSafe and recommendations from the Ministry of Education.


"We're hoping that there will be changes made and there will be some guidelines put back around ICT [information and communication technologies ]," Ms Fagan said.

Core Education consultant Sharon Carlson said iPads could be great learning tools that allowed children to follow their interests, but there were risks.

"It's about understanding the devices that you're working with with children, and making sure you minimise as much risk as you can, without taking some of the creativity away."

Ms Carlson said changing the settings on iPads to revoke full internet access and prevent children from downloading apps and movies could minimise the risk.

But even then, children should always be supervised by a teacher when online.

The consequences of unsupervised internet use were highlighted this year when a toddler bid $20,000 on a digger on Trade Me.

"This is happening more and more, because actually what's happening around home environments as well is that parents and older siblings become the role models in using this technology."

Early childhood centres had also been caught out.

Ms Carlson said one centre had posted a link to a "quite innocent" video on its blog - but the YouTube video was later found to link to another video about how to beat a wife without leaving any marks.

"That was a real eye-opener to them - that it still needs monitoring."

Ms Carlson said in situations where children were accidentally exposed to content they should not have been, teachers needed to be up-front.

"That's about the teacher logging that, the teacher talking to the parent before that child goes, 'Guess what I saw mummy', and actually having some cyber-safety guidelines in place."

Ms Carlson said preschools needed to introduce net safety policies the minute they started thinking about going online with children.

She recommended staff take a cyber-safety course, but noted government funding for early childhood centres to do so had been cut.

Professional development programmes were not cheap, and some centres would not see it as a priority, which was "a real shame", she said.