Today’s technology has created a very different learning environment than when most of us were young. Instead of hoping for your classroom’s turn in the computer lab to clack away on an old Commodore or Apple II playing “Oregon Trail”, today’s children have instant access to screen time right in their pockets or laps. Technology is no longer seen as a special privilege, but a must-have in order to keep up with the rigorous demands of today’s school standards and curriculum.
However, when it comes to children and technology, we also know that too much screen time can also be detrimental to a child’s social, linguistic and kinesthetic development. Today’s kids experience more than three times the amount of daily mobile screen time than just a few years ago, and those numbers look to rise as smartphones become increasingly affordable. This means that children are spending less of their precious free time playing outside or playing make-believe with their friends, and more time focused on technology.
Knowing that mobile devices and technology are increasingly pervasive in our daily lives, how can we ensure that we are exposing our children to developmentally-appropriate technology in early grades? The US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology has produced an excellent guide with four guiding principles, which we’ll explore here.
Guiding Principle #1: Appropriate Technology is a Learning Tool
Technology is a great starting point for young children to draw, explore new ideas and places, and use their imaginations to create digital projects. If you’re not sure where to begin, the Department of Education suggests that you examine the 3 “C’s” to see what’s right for your child:
- Content: How does the program/app help a child learn, engage, and explore?
- Context: Is the technology a natural continuation of the child’s dialogue and curiosity, or is it an interruption?
- The Child: Does the technology match the child’s age, interests, and ability level?
This should help clarify your focus as to what is technologically-appropriate for your young child.
Guiding Principle #2: Technology Increases Access for Learning Opportunities
When we were children, the only way we could “see” a community that was very different from our own was to read about it in a book, watch a movie, or actually travel to that place. Today’s children can take virtual field trips and use apps like Google Earth to plan a virtual road trip to just about anywhere on earth. This broadening of a child’s horizons is another key consideration for incorporating technology in younger grades.
Guiding Principle #3: Technology Can Strengthen Relationships Between Children and Families
When distance prevents a face-to-face conversation, technology can bridge this gap through video chats. Even young children can begin to recognize facial and vocal cues over video chats with distant family members. While not a substitute for in-person connections, young children can participate in these digital chats.
Guiding Principle #4: Technology Should be Co-Viewed by Children and Families
Supervision and previewing material is key to determining the appropriateness of the technology being used. Not only does this also work hand-in-hand with guiding principle #3, it also gives families the option to tell their child when enough screen time is enough. By using the 3 “C’s” in guiding principle #1 as your technology guide, you’ll quickly begin to see when your child’s technology usage is veering off the developmentally-appropriate track.
We know that children today can’t be taught the same way we were taught as youngsters. As parents, teachers, and families, we are charting some new waters in regards to technology and its proper usage. However, with some parameters and guidance, technology can be educational and appropriate for a child’s age, ability, and maturity.