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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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When Young Children Use Technology

Published:  July 13, 2010
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Photo courtesy Flickr user San Jose Library under Creative Commons license.

 For those who equate preschool with sandboxes and fingerpaints, the sight of 3- and 4-year-old children using computers, video and digital cameras feels jarring. But as these tools become easier for children to use – and as companies have learned to market their wares to younger and younger customers – it is no longer unusual to see preschool children using technology at home and at school. 

Are they getting anything out of it? Under what conditions? And how can teachers make sure that technology is put in the service of learning and exploration?
These questions are at the heart of discussions today among members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which is calling for comments on its position statement on technology for children ages 3 to 8. Comments are due July 30.
The current statement was drafted in 1996 – long before BabyFirstTV, online preschool games, and Webkinz. Yet many sections remain pertinent today, especially those that insist on using technology in developmentally appropriate ways and emphasize that “the teacher’s role is critical” – both in evaluating software and observing how children use it. 
In fact, preschool, kindergarten and elementary school classrooms would be better served if teachers and administrators adhered more closely to this 1996 call for integrating technology with activities that occur in the classroom. Instead, technology is often relegated to “computer time” in the corner, divorced from anything children are learning or exploring that day. 
The fact that these disconnects still exist between the use of technology and children’s learning shows how desperately we need more information about how exactly technology is being used in today’s early education classrooms and which uses make a positive impact. The 1996 position statement was informed mostly by studies of small sample sizes. Large longitudinal studies were – and still are -- practically non-existent. It’s good to see the NAEYC surveying its members to collect more data.
Members of the NAEYC’s technology interest forum have created a wiki to discuss these issues and to talk about what should be changed in the new position statement. Kudos to Bonnie Blagojevic of  The University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies for creating the space to prompt dialogue.   (Also, don’t miss the article she co-authored about “storytelling and learning in a digital age” in the latest issue of Teaching Young Children.)
As someone who has written about the impact – for good and ill – that comes with using video and other screen technology with young children, this is a particular  interest of mine, and ripe for more discussion. (Please also join in with ideas in our comment field below). Early Ed Watch will keep you posted on how the discussion and the position statement evolves.

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