The thought of introducing children to technology can be overwhelming for parents and early childhood educators alike. There are many mixed messages around kids and technology and we are all aware of the warnings around exposing children to too much screen time. But by making appropriate, effective and intentional choices, technology can be used as a tool for exploration, learning and discovery.
Early childhood educators should be working on behalf of young children and their families to develop guidelines for selecting, evaluating, and integrating technology in ways that enhance learning.
As an early childhood educator, you may want to consider what knowledge, skills and experience you have with technology tools, such as smartphones, computers, TV, tablets and handheld games. What do you need to learn in order to mindfully integrate technology into your classroom? What professional learning opportunities are available in this area? Perhaps there are other early childhood educators in your community that you can you connect with, to learn more?
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, supports integrating technology in the classroom in an exciting and interactive and social way.
He suggests that familiar keywords have emerged that can help to guide the effective and appropriate use of technology with young children. Dr Chip Donohue suggests these are:
• 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.
• 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.
So how do educators make appropriate and intentional choices in a world where devices are so common and so regularly used by caregivers? 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 practice:
• 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
Kelly Seaburg has been working is education for 15 years and is the owner of New Shoots Children’s Centre in Sunnynook. Having previously been on the Board of AKO Books, Kelly established New Shoots Publishing to keep treasured New Zealand early childhood texts in circulation and publish new books dedicated to sharing New Zealand perspectives on ECE.