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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Long-Awaited Guidance on Using Technology in the Classroom

Published:  March 7, 2012

The last time the National Association for the Education of Young Children took a position on teaching with technology it was 1996.  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.

But finally, 16 years later and after more than two years of drafts, discussion and often heated debates at annual meetings, the association has published a new statement on how educators should use technology with young children. (The New America Foundation was among the many organizations that made recommendations.) The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media – an organization dedicated to continuing the values embodied in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood  – was a partner in the effort. 
The statement, "Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8," does discourage "passive screen technology" usage, like TV and DVDs, especially with children under 2. But it doesn't suggest a ban on screens for preschoolers or kindergartners as some child-advocacy groups have suggested. Considering technology as varied as interactive touchscreens, e-books and kid-friendly cameras, the statement puts the onus on teachers to make smart decisions and use technology appropriately.
In a webcast accompanying the statement's release, Jerlean Daniel, executive director for NAEYC, says that she is particularly proud that the statement "calls out the needs of all children for digital equity in our very fast-paced world." 
Putting technology in children's hands shouldn't be taken lightly.  Nor is it always obvious how to use it well, especially to those of us who didn't grow up with interactive technologies. (In a supplement to the statement, the NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center provide some examples of good practice by age group.) There are many ways to use it badly. In visits to preschools and kindergarten classrooms over the past several years, and in my own experience as a parent of young children, I hear many educators voicing concerns about replacing active play with passive viewing of one video after another to keep children occupied. Others worry about pushing the equivalent of electronic flash cards on young children, boring them with rote memorization instead of meeting their need for deeper, lasting, hands-on learning. We need more educators to recognize why these are bad practices.
I once received a message from a public librarian in Michigan who said her director was planning to install TVs in the children's section so she could run a continuous loop of PBS programming. She was aghast – and so was I  – that anyone would think it was a good idea to infuse a reading area with background TV, no matter how good the programming might be.
As I stressed in a Huffington Post piece today, teachers need professional development and more examples of how to  use technology in creative, active, thoughtful ways integrated with what children are already learning. Here's an excerpt:

When educators choose to use technology - whether online games, electronic white boards, or digital photo software -- they should use it to enhance lessons, not replace them. "Educators who lack technology skills and digital literacy are at risk of making inappropriate choices and using technology with young children in ways that can negatively impact learning and development," the statement says.

Just as teachers steer parents toward good books and reading techniques, they can be resources for parents dealing with the media streaming through their children's lives. They can demonstrate technology-assisted activities that trigger new conversations and exploration. They could host family technology nights, providing examples of how to develop their children's minds (asking them questions about the games they are playing) and what to avoid (leaving the TV on as background noise or getting sucked into Internet advertising).

To be sure, this will take training that is lacking so far. A dearth of funding for preschool teaching doesn't help, but neither does the hand-wringing over technology's infusion into early childhood.


P.S.   I’ve written a parent-friendly book about children and media that may be helpful to early educators who want a run-down of recent studies of how children are affected by – and what they can learn from – digital media. The book, Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child (Basic Books), is available for pre-order in online bookshops and will be in stores on March 20.  It’s an update to Into the Minds of Babes, which came out in 2007.

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