Technology in early learning: moving from ‘screen-worried’ to ‘screen-wise’
In the early childhood years, technology is a tool for learning, exploration, discovery, communicating, telling a story, documenting, sharing, saving, revisiting and reflecting. In the earliest years, technology tools for learning in early childhood settings and at home should emphasise communication, interactions, relationships and joint engagement. Technology tools can include computers, tablets, apps, smartphones, TVs, handheld games, cameras, audio recorders, tape players, record players, head phones and familiar tools like crayons and pencils, scissors, rulers, blocks and magnifying glasses. Powerful tools for learning by digital age learners.
It’s challenging to be an analog adult in a world inhabited by digital young children. Making effective, appropriate and intentional choices about the selection and use of technology tools and digital media for young children can be difficult, even overwhelming, for early childhood educators and parents. In a screen-saturated world, adults need to manage the quality and quantity of technology and media use in children’s lives – how much children watch, what they watch and what they do when they are using screens. And to be sure that technology and media do not displace interactions with others, active and imaginative play, time outdoors, hands-on activities with real materials, and creative expression through art, music and movement. When used well, technology tools can enhance learning by providing children with new means of inquiry and expression, new ways to document their learning and show what they know, and to communicate and collaborate.
Educators and parents have worried about allowing technology in early childhood classrooms (being screenworried).
Deeper conversations about appropriate and intentional use; tech integration; addressing issues of access, equity and diversity; connections between formal and informal learning; new tools for family engagement; and the role of educators as media mentors (being screenwise) are needed. Grounded in developmentally-informed and evidence-based practices, those who work for or on behalf of young children and families, are developing guidelines for selecting, using, integrating and evaluating technology tools for learning in the early years.
The analog adults who work with young children today were not born into the digital age, but children are growing up in a digital world with new tools that create exciting opportunities for learning if they have digitally-literate adults who are media MANAGERS, MEDIATORS, MENTORS, and MAKERS.
Moving from screenworried to screenwise
- What knowledge, skills and experience do you have with today’s technology tools?
- What will you need to learn and be able to do to integrate technology in your classroom?
- What other early educators in your community can you connect with to learn more? (For example early childhood programmes, libraries and children’s museums)
- How do you feel about including technology tools in your work with children and families?
- What professional learning opportunities are available to you so you gain hands-on experience with technology tools and can appropriately and intentionally select, use, integrate and evaluate tools that support healthy child development and enhance early learning for young children?
It can feel like a full-time job to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation in technology. Some familiar keywords have emerged that can guide your practice and provide essential characteristics of effective and appropriate use of technology with young children.
- Technology and media are tools to be used alongside other tools and materials commonly found in early childhood environments.
- Being intentional means you understand if, when, and how to use technology, and more importantly, you know why.
- The word appropriate grounds decisions about technology within the well-established principles of developmentally informed and evidence-based practice.
- Effective refers to the use of technology and media that advance your learning goals and enhance learning opportunities across the curriculum for each individual child and for all the children in your classroom.
- Integrated means thinking about technology across the curriculum, throughout the day – not technology as a separate activity.
- The word balanced speaks to the belief that technology should be in addition to, not instead of, essential early childhood experiences. Educators need to find the right balance when integrating technology into the classroom alongside a room already full of invaluable materials and experiences for young children.
- Interactive is an important keyword. While new digital devices can offer children amazing interactive experiences on the screen, we want to be sure that young children have interactions with their peers and caring adults, as well as with appropriate technology tools. It also identifies a contrast with non-interactive or “passive” use of media, where children are placed in front of screens with little or no interaction with the technology or with others.
Blue-Bot® shows a perfect example of integrating technology in the classroom in an exciting and interactive and social way!
- Engaging speaks to the quality of the technology or media experience, as well as engagement with peers and adults.
- Joint engagement with media focuses on technology as a tool for encouraging adult-to-child and child-to-child interactions that invite a more social and less isolating experience.
- The words select, use, integrate, and evaluate are action words that describe the role of the teacher and the ongoing and dynamic nature of teaching with technology. They are a constant reminder that it takes knowledge, experience and digital media literacy for the adult to choose and use technology in appropriate and intentional ways.
- And finally, professional learning acknowledges the need to provide educators with the medial literacy and technology skills needed to select, use, integrate and evaluate technology tools for young children and to be an intentional and mindful role model for young children and families.
How do educators make appropriate and intentional choices in a world where technology devices have become ubiquitous, and where devices that adults use constantly are also in the hands of young children? We need to manage the quality and quantity of children’s technology and media use in early childhood settings and at home. As educators, we need to partner with parents and families to ensure that children’s engagement with screen media supports early learning and the development of the whole child.
When considering if, when, how, where and why to use technology with very young children, parents and educators are the decision makers on what screens, devices, digital media and interactive technology children have access to. Decisions need to be informed and intentional and based on knowledge of child development and early learning, developmentally appropriate principles and always in the context of joint engagement, interactions and relationships that support healthy social emotional development and create connections and avoid disconnections between young children and caring adults (Donohue, 2015).
Consider these points in your teaching practise:
- Which three keywords best describe your current teaching practice?
- How will you demonstrate appropriate and intentional practice?
- What does it mean to integrate technology into your environment and curriculum?
About the Author:
Dr. Chip Donohue - Principal at Donohue & Associates, Founding Director of the Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center at Erikson Institute and Senior Fellow and Advisor of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media