That’s the unspoken question I’m sensing from other Early Childhood educators. Is it really OK to give ipads to four and five year olds? When you’ve got the American Academy of Pediatrics making fairly strict recommendations about screen time for children under two, it makes sense to consider the question for young children as well. It’s definitely a question I considered before writing a proposal to request the ipads that we received.
I remember a teacher I met early in my teaching career. She taught kindergarten and was adamant that no technology would cross her threshold. There was no TV in her room and computers were relegated to the hallway. I admired her for taking that stand. Even in those days, so many children were spending far too much time in front of television, computers and video games. She wanted to make sure her students were doing the things that are so important for development: playing outside, interacting with peers, building sand castles and climbing jungle gyms.
I don’t think the situation has improved in the last 15 years. Children of all ages in this country are still spending far too much time in front of screens. At the same time, I do believe that our country has evolved. Like it or not, we live in a digital age. It is almost impossible to exist without at least a computer, if not also a smartphone, laptop and tablet. There comes a time when it is foolish to pretend that the world has not changed. The children that enter our classroom today have had their mom or dad’s smartphone at their disposal to entertain them during downtime probably since birth. They were practically born into an ipad age. Technology is a language that some of them speak quite fluently. If we really want to reach them and meet their needs, we may need to start speaking their language, and that means using technology in their classrooms.
As I started to consider ipads in our classroom, I was pleased to find that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) had examined the issue of using technology with young children. I was even more pleased to discover that they saw a place for technology in early childhood classrooms. In January 2012, NAEYC, in conjunction with Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College issued this position statement on the role of Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs. This position statement makes a couple of points that I think are essential to keep in mind whenever one is using technology in an early childhood classroom.
One of the first points they make is with regard to intentionality. Teachers who plan to include technology in their classrooms must be thoughtful and deliberate in the ways that they invite children to engage with these digital devices. Open access to ipads, while fun and exciting, will not necessarily benefit our students any more than their ability to pick up their Nintendo DS, Nook or ipod touch at home and start playing. As I stated earlier, children in this day and age are already getting plenty of screen time. If we’re going to invite technology into our classrooms, we need to consider how we are going to ensure that this is not just more of what our students are already spending far too much time doing at home.
NAEYC also addresses the fact that limits should be put into place with technology in early childhood classrooms. Currently our students have an opportunity to use the ipad twice a week, for up to 20 minutes at a time. It is one of our stations for our learning centers. Those 20 minutes have so far proven to be very rich in learning for the children. They are working at a “just right” level for each of them and getting very targeted instruction. While we may increase the amount of time children are spending with the ipad, we in no way intend to replace our entire curriculum and rely only on digital sources. Our children are still spending the majority of their time at school each week engaged in meaningful, hands-on play and learning. They’re still building those sand castles and climbing those jungle gyms that my colleague believed in so many years ago.
So is it OK to put technology in an Early Childhood classroom? I think that it is, so long as we’re taking the time to make sure that we’re using technology in a way that will actually be helpful for our students. I recommend that anyone planning to use technology with young children consider giving the NAEYC document a quick look, if not a thorough read. It’s tempting to simply grab a few educational apps and throw these amazing, engaging devices at our eager students. They’d certainly be willing to use them, and probably be quite entertained. But it’s not entertainment we’re looking for. It’s learning, and learning in a classroom takes careful planning. Whether we’re planning lessons from textbooks or from technology we need to devote some energy to making sure we’re doing it right.