Over the course of the next several days, I’ll be writing about technology and young children. First up is a look at the newly released position statement – “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8” – from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College.
The statement takes a balanced approach that focuses on the uses of technology rather than technology in and of itself. “With guidance, these various technology tools can be harnessed for learning and development; without guidance, usage can be inappropriate and/or interfere with learning and development,” the statement says. “The impact of technology is mediated by teachers’ use of the same developmentally appropriate principles and practices that guide the use of print materials and all other learning tools and content for young children.”
Among the conclusions of NAEYC and the Rogers Center are these:
- “Effective uses of technology and media are active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering; give the child control; provide adaptive scaffolds to ease the accomplishment of tasks; and are used as one of many options to support children’s learning.”
- “When used appropriately, technology and media can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities.”
- “Technology tools can help educators make and strengthen home–school connections.”
- “Interactions with technology and media should be playful and support creativity, exploration, pretend play, active play, and outdoor activities.”
- “Early childhood educators need training, professional development opportunities, and examples of successful practice to develop the technology and media knowledge, skills, and experience needed to meet the expectations set forth in this statement.”
The statement, more than two years in the making, is NAEYC’s first position on the subject of technology in early education settings since 1996. Back then, as Early EdWatch notes, “the Web was only a few years old, portable music meant the Sony Walkman, and Einstein was still that physics genius with the mustache, not a line of DVDs for babies.”
Now, of course, we live in an era of apps and tablets, smart phones and handheld games, touch screens and scanners, digital cameras and video recorders. “As digital technology has expanded in scope beyond linear, non-interactive media to include interactive options, it is evident that each unique screen demands its own criteria for best usage,” the new statement notes. “The challenge for early childhood educators is to make informed choices that maximize learning opportunities for children while managing screen time and mediating the potential for misuse and overuse of screen media, even as these devices offer new interfaces that increase their appeal and use to young children.”
A companion piece offers examples of effective practice for children of various ages.
- Infants and toddlers: “During the earliest years, infants and toddlers interact primarily with people. Their interactions with toys are usually in the context of human interaction as well. They need to freely explore, manipulate, and test everything in the environment. Increasingly in today’s world, this includes the exploration of technology tools and interactive media.” Examples of appropriate use of technology include shared technology time that mirrors shared book reading time and using technology as an “active and engaging tool when appropriate to provide infants and toddlers with access to images of their families and friends, animals and objects in the environment, and a wide range of diverse images of people and things they might not otherwise encounter.”
- Preschoolers and kindergartners: “During the preschool years, young children are developing a sense of initiative and creativity…. Digital technologies provide one more outlet for them to demonstrate their creativity and learning.” Examples of appropriate use include digital storytelling, celebrating children’s accomplishments with a classroom website, giving children the opportunity to “freely explore touch screens loaded with a wide variety of developmentally appropriate interactive media experiences that are well designed and enhance feelings of success,” and using video conferencing to communicate with families and children in other places.
- School-age children: ““It is during the early school-age years that children begin to use the tools of their society with competence…. New Web-based technologies allow the child to be the producer of the technology, adding to the appropriateness, motivation, and usability of technology tools.” Examples of appropriate use include using Web-based tools for” writing, collaboration, and playful experimentation” and for math concepts, such as geometry software that “allows children to explore the concept of shape by stretching, bending, shrinking, or combining images.” Children can use digital microscopes for science exploration. They can become proficient users of cameras, video recorders, editing software and scanners.
For all age groups, the statement notes, technology can be a powerful tool to help children with special needs.
Early learning programs also provide important opportunities to mitigate the effects of the digital divide. “Young children,” the position paper notes, “need opportunities to develop the early ‘technology-handling’ skills associated with early digital literacy that are akin to the ‘book-handling’ skills associated with early literacy development.”