The topic of our Fall Early Childhood Forum was: “Does Technology Enhance Learning in Early Childhood”? While the attendance was light the conversation was robust. I thought I would try to capture the forum in words for those that were unable to attend. Quite simply the answer is yes, technology has a place in early childhood. When used purposefully and in balance it most definitely enhances our programs. We use technology very differently in Nursery than we do in Kindergarten. As you would expect, our Kindergarteners are using it a little bit more and in more sophisticated ways.
Technology involves screen time. Screen time includes: computers, iPads, phones, TV, tablets, gaming devices, and videos. The list seems to be growing continually as technology is ever changing. As with everything in life, Early Childhood balances the use of screen time. Some days we may not even use it. We are mindful of the intent of the technology being used. It is never used in place of hands on learning.
Technology includes interactive websites that are self-directed and often part of a center time. These sites can be used to reinforce information or to differentiate instruction. The teachers choose sites that are age appropriate and engaging. Enriching apps on the iPad are very popular and easy to use. Even our youngest children can use a touch screen. It is a part of their lives. Our Nursery children can use a touch screen to practice fine motor skills while PreK children may be listening to a story or playing a letter game. Our Kindergarteners do all these things plus use technology to create. Children are learning basic computer skills and how to use technology correctly. Children are cooperating and collaborating while using technology. (Check your child's class page for our favorite apps.) Our children are chronicling events and using iPads to take pictures. They record stories and make simple movies. Our Kindergarteners are blogging and tweeting!! They are using technology to connect with others.
Technology is allowing our children to become global citizens. We are connecting with the world. We are engaged in projects that show us how other children around the world are living, playing, eating.....We take virtual field trips, use webcams and Skype to help us understand similarities and differences in our world. Learning becomes authentic. Not only do we get to see the world but the world can see what we are doing at school.
But what should parents know about young children and technology? It is an ever present part of all of our lives. Research is finding that too much screen time can lead to school difficulties, eating and sleeping disorders, and may even be contributing to social difficulties with children not being able to read emotions. The American Pediatric Association advocates no more than two hours of screen time a day. It is important to remember that screen time includes: TV, movies, iPhones and iPads. Two hours can go by very quickly if you are watching a movie in your car on the way to school, playing on the iPad at the ball field and watching a TV show. Parents, just like teachers, need to be mindful about the use of screen time for young children. As with everything in life, moderation is the key.
There are some things that you might want to keep in mind when you are thinking about screen time. You should have consistent rules that you enforce. For instance, keep all screens out of the bedroom and no screen time at dinnertime. It has also been suggested that you create screen free zones in your house. And most importantly, screen time should never take the place of free play or outside play.
Equally as important is how your children see you using technology. We have to be very careful that we are not distracted by our devices. Our children deserve our attention and we should be present when we are with them and not always focused on our device. We want our children to be able to come to us with questions, concerns and problems and not just rely on Google or Siri. This trust starts when children are very young. They have to feel that you are listening to them. Engaging in conversation that doesn't include checking a device is a good start. This is a win/win for both you and your child. You get to fully be a part of their lives and they get to have you to themselves for a short time. Enjoy the time together!
(Click on this link to read another mom's thoughts. Thanks to Susan Leighton for this link.)
Director of Early Childhood