Researchers from the ARC Centre for Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University and Murdoch Children's Research Institute studied over 1500 four year olds and found regular computer usage during preschool years has a positive effect on their letter knowledge.
The study, which was published in Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, explored the link between preschool children's general home computer use and their letter knowledge. Researchers also tested children on their non verbal intelligence, oral language, speech development and phonological awareness.
Researchers found around half of four year old children in the study used computers on a regular basis, and that this use was positively correlated with letter knowledge.
They also found computer use was a unique predictor of letter knowledge and was independent of a variety of cognitive and environmental factors, including home literacy experiences, socio economic status and language awareness, which have previously been shown to predict letter knowledge in young children.
The study found just over 5% of children knew all 26 letters, while 21% couldn't name any of the letters. Analysis of the children with zero letter knowledge revealed that 61% of these children had not used a computer at all.
Lead researcher, Professor Anne Castles said numerous studies had focused on the relationship with television use, however research exploring the association between children's computer use and early literary skills had been much less extensive.
"Research in computer usage is needed given that young children's access to computers and tablets has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Our study showed greater computer use in preschool children appears to have a positive association with emerging literacy development."
Co-lead researcher, Professor Sheena Reilly said identifying a link between computer use and letter knowledge is the first step in determining the role and potential benefits of early computer use in children's emerging literacy development.
"This study measured general computer use, and did not distinguish between educational and more recreational uses. This would be another avenue to explore, since there is evidence that the association between literacy and the use of other forms of electronic media, such as television, is modified by the literary content of the material."
Researchers say more research is needed to examine the aspects of computer use that are most positively associated with children's literacy, and to determine what underlies the association.