Technology and digital media are a daily aspect of adults’ lives today, and the same goes for our children.
Conversations about digital media, social media and early childhood learning focus on whether these new technologies may be a part of early childhood education, at home or school. In recent years, the conversation has shifted to an acknowledgment that these things are a part of learning.
In this current national conversation about media use, technology and children’s learning, the focus has shifted to the need for human interaction with all children’s technology and media use.
This is reassuring to hear.
The most recent research is beginning to make clear that while digital media can provide significant learning benefits for young learners, the adult-child interaction and relationship is critical to these learning benefits.
“It’s through relationships that we grow best—and learn best.” ~ Fred Rogers
The focus on relationships in all forms coordinates with the message of Fred Rogers, who often spoke about media, technology, and children:
“No matter how helpful they are as tools (and, of course, they can be very helpful tools), computers don’t begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship which is human and mutual. A computer can help you to learn to spell H-U-G, but it can never know the risk or the joy of actually giving or receiving one.”
Children are much more interested and ready to learn when adult-child relationships are established.
These relationships also allow a positive and balanced approach to media use and experiences to contribute positively to a child’s social and emotional development.
Strategies of joint engagement and media mentorship are highly recommended. These consist of co-viewing of videos and movies and engaging with and asking kids questions about the content viewed or the game they are playing.
The AAP’s guidelines are recommendations on joint engagement strategies along with how much time children spend with media.
Technology and media are present in so many aspects of our lives today that it is nearly impossible to imagine a one-size-fits-all approach of limits and restrictions that could meet the diverse needs of children and families.
Earlier attempts that focused limitations on screen time do not address the nuanced nature of current technology and media interactions.
Following from Fred’s belief in “simple and deep,” we as parents, are looking for a more straightforward and clearer message to help us as parents, caregivers and educators to they navigate our children’s media and technology use.
Every child, family, and context is unique, and any guidance should reflect and support individual decisions.
According to Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical Center, he advises, “Our focus should be on living with media rather than opposing or restricting it.”
There are many complex factors that will determine the quality of learning opportunities with media and technology.
There are many trusted organizations working to help sort media and use based upon it being developmentally and content appropriate, having potential educational value, and promoting physical and mental health for children.
The focus on the idea of the relationship is the most essential.
It will not be the media and technology alone, but instead our use and practice together, that will help to support children to grow as confident, competent and caring human beings.
Digital storytelling for dual language learners; deep diving on a virtual seabed; and more innovative uses of technology for early learning.
Computers, tablets, smartphones, apps, and other digital tools are part of our everyday lives.
When used appropriately, technology can help children explore their world, express and make sense of what they know, and interact with other children. Technology tools can also assist families as they support their children’s at-home learning.
So, how can parents choose appropriate technology tools to enhance and support children’s learning?
Toddlers and Technology
Both the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), passive technology viewing has little value for infants and toddlers; the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that parents limit or omit technology use altogether for children age two and under.
At this age, unstructured play and human interactions have more educational value.
If you do allow technology such as toddler tablets, use it in “the context of human relationships,” suggests NAEYC, as you would picture books.
Load tablets with photos of family members or animals. Hold your child as you look at and describe the photos. Use the digital device to share picture books, many of which have interactive features.
Technology for Preschoolers
Preschoolers are naturally drawn to technology.
But before they begin learning with technology, they will need to learn the basics.
Show your child how to swipe and touch the screen. As your child’s fine motor skills increase, you can teach them how to use a mouse or keyboard.
Be an active participant with your child when using any technology.
Download simple, age-appropriate games and eBooks or listen to audiobooks.
Take digital photos of your child’s work, such as a block tower or painting, to instantly send to family members.
Download a story maker app and help your child write and illustrate digital stories, which can also be shared with others.
Search videos about topics that interest your children, such as the international space station, jungle or arctic animals, or cooking.
A balanced approach to technology and education is required. Parents need to be aware of how much time their child spends with technology and don’t allow it to supplant other activities, such as reading, unstructured play, or active play time.