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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Screens, Kids and the NAEYC Position Statement

Published:  August 2, 2010
Issues:  
Should children in kindergarten, preschools and child-care centers be kept away from screen media like televisions and computers?

That is among the topics now up for debate as the National Association for the Education of Young Children revises its statement on technology and children, which was last adopted in 1996. The deadline for comments was Friday.

The Coalition for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a national organization based in Boston, would say yes, children should have “little or no exposure” to screens in child care settings, preschool or kindergarten. They released a letter last week signed by more than 70 people making that argument.

Here at the Early Education Initiative, we support a different approach. While hands-on activities, rich oral language experiences and creative play should, without a doubt, hold a prime position in early childhood settings, we also see potential for screen media, in limited amounts, to become another tool to be harnessed by skilled teachers. We would never want to see an early childhood classroom taken over by computers. But we also don’t want to shut the door on, say, a teacher being able to read children a new picture book that is available only online. (For example, check out the content at the International Children’s Digital Library, an online resource for children’s books in multiple languages from around the world.)
 
The Early Education Initiative submitted a letter to NAEYC on Friday describing ways to strengthen what we see as an already thoughtful position statement. The recommendations are here and below (and the full text of the letter, footnotes included, is available here as a PDF). Please let us know what you think.
 
1. Consider technology as a resource for exposing children to new content and less as a piece of hardware to be used for practicing technical skills. Video technology can expose young children to landscapes, objects, animals and phenomena they’ve never seen and that they may have a hard time grasping through abstract conversations. Downloadable digital books can provide children with more access to great children’s literature, particularly in classrooms with meager bookshelves. These kinds of experiences could steep children in rich content and vocabulary that assists reading comprehension in their later school years. We suspect that such experiences may have a more lasting impact than sitting children down at a computer so that they can learn simple skills like how to use a computer mouse or spot a hyperlink.
2. Embed discussions about the proper use of technology into traditional teacher training and professional development programs. Even in preschool classrooms that eschew modern technologies, there is no escaping the daily impact that media and technology have on children, peers and parents. Teachers need to be knowledgeable enough to answer parents’ questions and steer children to media and technology experiences that have the potential to exert a positive influence on their development. They need to see examples of how video, digital photography, computer slideshows and other digital tools could be used to extend their classroom lessons. Professional development programs should include discussions of how technology may or may not fit into the curriculum and why.
3. Ensure that technology does not supplant activities that are well known to be important for children’s development. These include creative play, physical activity, and conversation and language interactions. Young kids need to be manipulating playdough, collecting pinecones and playing make-believe. Digital technology may augment the experience by enabling children to take photos and thereby preserve and label their playdough sculptures. Google and Wikipedia, with the help of teachers, can spark fascinating questions as children search for photos of different kinds of pinecones and pine trees. But in both of these examples, real life exploration still holds the central place in children’s daily routines.
4. Avoid background television and limit background noise. When working with young children, noise comes with the territory. But research on infants suggests that they may not be able to pick out some of the building blocks of speech and language when they are having to filter background noise, like that from a television set or radio. Studies have also shown that young children’s play patterns and interactions with adults are disrupted when a TV is on in the background. We recently heard of a well-meaning but ill-informed librarian who decided to install a screen to run a constant loop of literacy-based TV shows in the children’s library. Troubling stories like this make clear that we need to raise awareness about background television and its ill effects. If children in a childcare setting are invited to watch a short educational program, ensure that the experience is purposeful and integrated into the curriculum, with teachers and care-givers co-viewing and using the show to prompt later conversations. When a show is over, be sure to turn the television off.

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