Kiwi preschoolers are creating music and art on touchscreen tablets well before they can write, a new study has found.
The study by Victoria University doctoral student Luke Santamaria has found that almost half of NZ early childhood services let their preschool children use iPads and other tablets.
"In some instances the children know better than the adults," he said. "Children can use these things but adults can't actually use them."
Santamaria, a Filipino who did his master's degree in Japan and was drawn to New Zealand in 2016 by the reputation of his supervisors Dr Sue Cherrington and Dr Mary Jane Shuker, will present initial results of his study to a NZ Association for Research in Education conference in Manukau this week.
He surveyed 362 early childhood services last year and found that 16 per cent of playcentres, 30 per cent of home-based childcare services, 50 per cent of education and care centres and 68 per cent of kindergartens used touchscreen tablets.
The most popular purpose was to share photos and videos of the children's activities with parents through "story" apps such as KidReports, Storypark and Educa. Just over half (53 per cent) of all services used tablets for such "documentation and assessment".
Almost half (46 per cent) used them for playing music - often soothing music to help the children sleep in mat time.
And almost as many (42 per cent) used them for "creativity" such as letting the children create their own art and music.
To find out more, Santamaria visited seven early childhood services in the Wellington region.
"I was able to record one centre where the teacher was letting the boy take photos and saying we'll make them into a video using the Movie Maker app," he said.
He found that playcentres discouraged the use of technology, partly to encourage free play and partly to protect the children's privacy.
Education and care centres and home-based services allowed the children to use devices only under teacher supervision.
But the kindergartens that Santamaria visited allowed children to use tablets independently as long as they followed policies set by the kindergarten association.
He himself used tablets when he taught at a kindergarten in Japan.
"I would only use it for playing music and I would let the children watch a YouTube video to extend their cultural knowledge, but if we were playing physical games I wouldn't take the tablet with me," he said.
He said his study did not draw any conclusions on whether using touchscreen tablets was good for preschool children, but he found that teachers' use of tablets "synchronises with the updated strands of communication and exploration" in New Zealand's early childhood curriculum.
He also found that photos and video were an effective way for preschool services to communicate with parents who could not speak good English.
"In one case, the parents only used Sign Language, so the teachers uploaded Sign Language videos so they could communicate with the parents," he said.
"They could send them videos of the child so they didn't need to explain it. And the teachers learnt basic Sign Language using the Sign Language app, and that facilitated communication."