Lakeville schools Superintendent Lisa Snyder likes to say that to a toddler, "a magazine is an iPad that doesn't work."

For Snyder, who took over the district last summer, it's a means of conveying how adept children are becoming in the digital world.

That is one of the reasons, she said, that the Lakeville school district has decided to put iPads in the hands of kids as young as 3 or 4 in the next month or so.

Can kids that young benefit from iPads? "Absolutely," Snyder said last week.

Lakeville is set to take possession of about 1,900 iPads next month for distribution to dozens of classrooms as part of an initiative to make Lakeville one of the most-wired districts in the state.

Snyder said a growing body of research demonstrates the iPads are helping improve student performance and, in some cases, behavior.

In younger children, that can mean more quickly learning to write their names, trace letters or build vocabulary. In older kids, it can mean better graduation rates, fewer disciplinary problems and more critical thinking, Snyder and others said.

"Students tend to make great gains," said Snyder, who held a series of information sessions for parents last week on plans to distribute the tablets this spring. "This is a learning initiative, not a technology initiative."

Although some parents at the meetings were skeptical that the devices would be used as anything but game consoles by younger students, most seemed enthusiastic about kids using the devices to learn.

"He loves computers," said Elizabeth Frandrup, whose son Paul is a first-grader at John F. Kennedy Elementary. "It will be a great tool, not just for him, but for all the students."

The district purchased the devices earlier this month, the day after Apple unveiled its latest version of the iPad to the nation.

District officials estimate that the first rollout, next month, will allow more than 80 percent of elementary school children to use the devices at some point.

"Every single kid in my building will be affected in one way or another by the iPad," said Mark Deming, a media specialist at Orchard Park Elementary School.

The ultimate goal is to place an iPad in the hands of every student and teacher in Lakeville, a goal that would require more than 11,000 devices.

The tablets, using thousands of education apps, will allow students to make their own movies, use electronic textbooks for deeper research and post findings or reports on the Internet for others.

"What we are trying to do is to get our staff to transform the classroom ... taking it to a higher level of critical thinking," said Barbara Knudsen, director of teaching and learning services for the district.

To get maximum use of the technology, the district is upgrading all of its buildings for wireless Internet access. Also, training has begun to prepare teachers from novices to technology experts on the best way to use the devices.

Holding the informational meetings for parents of elementary, middle school and high school students was another way that the district tried to pave the way for the future.

Many of the parents had some basic questions: Will the kids take the devices home? (Not yet.) What happens if they get lost or break down? (The devices are being leased for three years so they will be replaced by Apple or the district during that time.)

District technology experts said the devices have Gorilla Glass, making it harder to break. Also, the breakage rate is very low, even among the youngest students.

"Kids really do respect the technology," said Jason Molesky, the district's assessment and accountability coordinator, who checked with other districts on breakage rates for the iPads.

Rachel Frechette, who has three kids in the district, said her 6-year-old daughter, Isabel, has been using her parents' iPad since she was about 4, mainly to play games.

"She did it right off the bat," Frechette said.

She said her sons do use the iPad for school reports, although they also use it a lot to research basketball statistics.

Frechette said she was skeptical when she first heard about the district's plans because she wondered how teachers would get the students to focus on learning and not game playing on the devices.

By the end of the night she said she saw how the devices could help students of all ages.

"I think it probably is good for kids who need different ways to learn," she said. "I was skeptical, but am encouraged that there seems to be a plan. Further engagement and deeper engagement is definitely what I am after."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281