Parents are constantly struggling with limits on their children’s tablets, mobile phones, computers, and TVs. There has to be a balance between technology and entertainment and education.
As parents, all of us have fought the battle with our kids as they are absorbed into a video game or movie on an iPad, tablet or smartphone. We’ve had a better chance of getting the attention of Tom Cruise walking the red carpet than our kids.
Today, it’s common for two-year-olds to be using iPads, elementary schoolers hooked up to video games, and we all suffer (or live with) the challenge of prying your middle-schooler away from the computer long enough to eat a decent meal. Technology is everywhere and its draw on kids is obvious, but is technology helping our kids learn? Technology is becoming more social, adaptive, and customized, and as a result, it can be a fantastic teaching tool. That stated, as parents, we need to establish boundaries. Today, software is connecting kids to online learning communities, tracking kids’ progress through lessons and games, and customizing each students’ experience. By the time your child is in elementary school, they will probably well-versed in technology.
Learning with Technology at School
Schools are investing more and more in technology. Whether your child’s class uses an interactive Smartboard, laptops, or another device, here are three ways to make sure that technology is used effectively.
Young children love playing with technology, from iPads to digital cameras. What do early childhood practitioners — and parents, too — need to think about before handing kids these gadgets? Let’s start at the beginning: what is technology in early childhood Technology can be as simple as a camera, audio recorder, music player, TV, DVD player, or more recent technology like iPads, tablets, and smartphones used in child care centers, classrooms, or at home.
More than once, I’ve had teachers tell me, “I don’t do technology.” I ask them if they’ve ever taken a digital photo of their students, played a record, tape, or DVD, or give kids headphones to listen to a story. Teachers have always used technology. The difference is that now teachers are using really powerful tools like iPads and iPhones in their personal and professional lives. Technology is just a tool. It shouldn’t be used in classrooms or child care centers because it’s cool, but because teachers can do activities that support the healthy development of children.
Teachers are using digital cameras — a less flashy technology than iPads — in really creative ways to engage children in learning. That may be all they need. At the same time, teachers need to be able to integrate technology into the classroom or child care center as a social justice matter. We can’t assume that all children have technology at home. A lack of exposure could widen the digital divide — that is, the gap between those with and without access to digital technology — and limit some children’s school readiness and early success.
Just as all children need to learn how to handle a book in early literacy, they need to be taught how to use technology, including how to open it, how it works, and how to take care of it. Experts worry that technology is bad for children. There are serious concerns about children spending too much time in front of screens, especially given the many screens in children’s lives.
Today, very young children are sitting in front of TVs, playing on iPads and iPhones, and watching their parents take photos on a digital camera, which has its own screen. There used to be only the TV screen. That was the screen we worried about and researched for 30 years. We as a field know a whole lot about the impact of TV on children’s behavior and learning, but we know very little about all the new digital devices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for children under two years old, but the NAEYC/Fred Rogers position statement takes a slightly different stance. It says that technology and media should be limited, but what matters most is how it is used.
What is the content?
Is it being used in an intentional manner?
Is it developmentally appropriate?
As parents, we need to be aware of the drawbacks of technology and its impact on eyesight, vocabulary and physical development. We also need to be cognizant of our kids overall development, My advice to teachers and parents is to trust your instincts. You know your child and if you think they have been watching the screen too long, turn it off. It’s up to us, as parents, to notice that your child’s computer time is reducing or limiting interactions and playtime with other kids and nudge them in new directions. To encourage them to be physically active, to get outside and play. It’s also up to the adult to understand the child’s personality and disposition and to figure out if a technology is one of the ways the child chooses to interact with the world.
At the same time, cut yourself some slack. We all know that there are better things to do with children’s time than to plop them in front of a TV, but we also know that child care providers have to make lunch, and parents need time to take a shower. In situations like that, it is the adult’s job to make the technology time more valuable and interactive by asking questions and connecting a child’s virtual experience on the screen with real-life experiences in her world.
Learning with Technology at Home
Whether you’re giving your child your smart screen phone to entertain them, or it’s your toddlers’ preferred playtime is on an iPad or tablet, here are eight ways to make sure your child’s experiences with technology are educational and fun.
- Focus on active engagement. Any time your child is engaged with a screen, stop a program, or mute the commercials, and ask engaging questions. What was that character thinking? Why did the main character do that? What would you have done in that situation?
- Allow for repetition. DVDs and YouTube videos add an essential ingredient for young minds which is repetition. Let your young child watch the same video over and over, and ask him what he noticed after each viewing.
- Make it tactile. Unlike computers that require a mouse to manipulate objects on the screen, iPads, tablets, and smartphones allow kids manipulate “physical” objects with their fingers.
- Practice problem-solving. An emerging category of games will force your child to solve problems as they play, potentially building concentration and analytical skills in the process; although the jury is still out on this. There is no clinical data that supports the marketing message of app makers.
- Encourage technology for creation, not just entertainment. Have your child record a story on your iPod, or sing a song into your video game system. Then, create an entirely new sound using the playback options, slow down and speed up their voice and add different backgrounds and beats until they’ve created something uniquely theirs.
- Show him how to use it. Many computer games have different levels and young children may not know how to move up or change levels. If your child is stuck on one level that’s become too easy, ask if he knows how to move up and help him if he wants more of a challenge.
- Ask why. If your child is using an app or game the “wrong” way, always pressing the incorrect button, for example, ask them why. It may be that they like hearing the noise the game makes when they get the question wrong, or they might be stuck and can’t figure out which group of objects match number four.
- Focus on play. Young kids should be exploring and playing with technology. This should be considered play, and not a focus on drilling skills.
- Ask for your own log-in. Often, school programs come with a parent log-in that will allow you to see your child’s progress. If it doesn’t, ask to see the reports that a teacher has access to. Then, check his progress every few weeks. It’s a great way for you and your child to be on the same page about their progress.
- Ask about teacher training. Technology is often implemented in classrooms without appropriate professional development. If your child’s classroom is using a whole-class system, such as Clickers or an Interactive Smartboard, ask how it’s used in class and what training the teacher has had. “As a parent, you want to know if teachers feel well trained and they’re putting [new technologies] to good use.
- Find Parent Resources. One of the best ways that technology can help your child is by helping you learn more about learning.
Computers, smartphones, and tablets aren’t going away, but with a few tweaks and consideration, you can make your child’s technology-time productive, educational, and fun! Let’s be honest. Most children can use a mouse, open and close apps, and even search the internet by the time they are three years old. Once they have the cognitive ability, it’s time to talk with your child about internet safety.