Thinking about technology and young children

Child holds a pretend cameraWhen the two-year-old class goes walking around the open space with me, they sometimes like to bring pretend cameras with them. I have let children use my real digital camera if they are interested, making them use the wrist strap to catch it if they let go. Watching them use the camera teaches me about their ability to use a device and their objects of interest. Something I never had to consider when raising my children was their use of mobile electronic devices. We had limits on the type of television shows and how long the children could watch, but they did not have their own mobile devices (Gameboys or phones) until they could pay for them themselves in high school. Today there are so many more mobile device options and so much more content available on devices that they’ve become a useful tool for very young children to be entertained and expand their knowledge of the world.

I’ve turned to early childhood colleagues to understand the research about children’s use of “screens,” how it affects their development and what they learn from such use. Here are several of the recent resources I’ve read or listened to as I consider what I think:

Logo of National Association for the Education of Young ChildrenThe National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) issued a joint position statement with the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College in January 2012, “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.” The key messages are:

  • When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development.
  • Intentional use requires early childhood teachers and administrators to have information and resources regarding the nature of these tools and the implications of their use with children.
  • Limitations on the use of technology and media are important.
  • Special considerations must be given to the use of technology with infants and toddlers.
  • Attention to digital citizenship and equitable access is essential.
  • Ongoing research and professional development are needed.

American Academy of Pediatrics News, “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use” by Ari Brown, Donald L. Shifrin, and David L. Hill. September 8, 2015.

The authors state that “scientific research and policy statements lag behind the pace of digital innovation” and report on the key messages for parents that emerged from the AAP Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium. The first 2 of 12 in the list are:

  • Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.
  • Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.

Interesting news articles and podcasts include:

Many Children Under 5 Are Left to Their Mobile Devices, Survey Finds” by Catherine Saint Louis, (NY Times Nov. 2, 2015) reports on usage and notes the lack of research.

Parents: Reject Technology Shame: The advantages of helping kids learn to navigate the digital world, rather than shielding them from it” by Alexandra Samuel. November 4, 2015. The Atlantic, reporting on a series of surveys on how families manage technology.

Diane Rehm Show: New Research On Teens, Toddlers and Mobile Devices. November 5, 2015 (archived). Diane and her guests discuss the latest research on screen time and kids. Guests are: 

  • Lisa Guernsey, director of the Learning Technologies Project in the Education Policy Program, New America
  • Rachel Barr, associate professor in the department of psychology, Georgetown University
  • Dr. Michael Rich, founder and director, The Center on Media and Child Health; associate professor of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
  • James Steyer, founder and CEO, Common Sense Media

Diane Rehm Show: Touch-Screen Devices And Very Young Children. May 23 2012 (archived). A conversation on young children and touch-screen devices with guests:

  • Lisa Guernsey, director, Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation
  • Liz Perle, editor in chief, Common Sense Media `
  • Heather Kirkorian, assistant professor, human development and family studies, University of Wisconsin , Madison
  • Ben Worthen, reporter, Wall Street Journal

An online collection of information from early childhood educators, Gail Laubenthal and Robbie Polan, sharing their experiences and offering reflective questions on their wiki, Using the Latest Technology in Early Childhood.

Children use a digital camera to record a slug's track.The four-year-olds spent longer observing and commenting on a slug they found when they used the digital camera to record every glistening track. Given that I teach in a half-day program with a very limited budget and have a focus on exploring the natural world, I don’t have plans to use tablets and computers with children in the short time I have with them. Technology tools have made my learning much easier as I use it to connect with resources posted online and communicate with colleagues. I really appreciate the way these tools expand my world.

The logo of the Technology and Young Children Interest ForumThe NAEYC Technology and Young Children Interest Forum, is a network of early care and education professionals who are committed to promoting the developmentally appropriate use of technology in the early years by leading discussions, sharing research, information and demonstrating evidence-based practices. They encourage us to work together to create responsive learning environments for children everywhere. Find them online, on Facebook, and at the annual NAEYC conference in Tech on Deck sessions including a “Free Play” area outside the meeting rooms all day on Thursday and Friday where participants will encounter a variety of traditional and emerging technology tools. And we’ll likely encounter some illuminating conversations too!

Thank you to all early childhood educators who help me learn about technology and the research about how young children use it and are shaped by it.

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