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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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A Modest Proposal for Digital Media in Early Childhood

Published:  June 24, 2011

Research tells us that children's development is strongly influenced by the environment they grow up in -- the language they hear as adults talk to and care for them, the books and stories they are exposed to, the social and emotional moments they experience. Today, that environment increasingly includes digital technology, especially screen media.  How should early educators ensure that it is harnessed to help and not harm?

That was the question underlying a talk that I gave last week at the National Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) Professional Development Institute in Providence, R.I. The presentation was part of a featured panel, "Building a Blueprint for Learning with Technology."

But instead of starting with the question of whether children can learn via technology, I thought it might be useful to step back to a more basic question: What do children need in order to learn in the first place? In my presentation I focused on six needs -- attachment and security, conversational partners, early exposure to new words and ideas, physical movement and hands-on exploration, practice at self-regulating and deeper learning.  From there I touched on what research has shown us so far about digital media and its impact on those six needs. 

I would love to hear from educators about these ideas and whether they are helpful in framing uses of technology in pre-k, kindergarten and early-grades classrooms. The full text of my remarks and the accompanying slide presentation, "Putting the Kids' Needs First: A Modest Proposal for Determining Where Digital Media Should Fit in Early Childhood," are now online.

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