Today´s preschoolers are “digital natives." They have been raised in and with technology to the extent that they are familiar with it from a very early age. Hand a young child a smartphone and before long he or she is navigating to their favorite app or video calling your most recent contact. It also isn’t uncommon for children to teach the adults in their lives how to work the latest piece of technological wizardry.
When it comes to technology in the classroom, however, a common parental concern is, “My child receives too much media exposure at home. Why would I want it at school?” While that may be the case, when technology is used in specific and focused ways it can support and achieve early childhood education and preschool learning goals. Implementing technology in tandem with traditional activities like outdoor play and tactile learning (such as wooden blocks and sensory bins) allow more opportunities for students of varying ages and abilities to engage, communicate, and explore.
Having taught in early childhood classrooms for five years ranging from Nursery 3 to second grade, I have discovered several key benefits for implementing technology in early education classrooms. Deliberate handling of technology benefits students today by building community, developing vital math and literacy skills, expanding imagination, promoting creativity, and fostering engagement.
A student’s access to education technology should neither harm nor interfere with their social development. Instead, technology in early childhood classrooms should support collaborative learning environments and, therefore, enrich student’s interactions with their peers. Additionally, teachers in these classrooms need to understand when it's appropriate to incorporate technology into an early learner’s routine in order to avoid the negative outcomes of high media exposure. As educators, we must use our professional judgement and incorporate technology in order to enhance peer-to-peer interactions.
Educators should use technology where students can actively experience learning together, whether it’s interacting with themselves or their teachers. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) 2012 report outlining best classroom practices, “effective technology tools connect on-screen and offscreen activities with an emphasis on co-viewing and co-participation between adults and children and children and their peers (Takeuchi 2011).” (NAEYC, pg.7). For example, classroom technologies that offer multi-touch capabilities allow and encourage students to interact in groups; they work collectively on a single device whether its collaborating to solve the math problem of the day, expanding upon the science lesson, or immersing themselves into history. Therefore, pre-kindergarten teachers can incorporate interactive or multi-touch solutions that are designed to allow even the youngest of learners to participate and should encourage collaboration at all grade levels.
Lastly, technology provides an optimal opportunity to strengthen connections with parents and assist how educators share information with them. NAEYC recommends “teachers use digital portfolios that include photographs as well as audio and video recordings to document, archive, and share a child’s accomplishments and developmental progression with families in face-to-face conferences or through communication and social media tools.” (NAEYC, pg.8). Consequently, technology will help parents feel connected to their children’s learning development and growth. By developing a strong relationship with parents online, educators can reassure reluctant parents that technology is enhancing their child’s formative education.
Develop Math and Literacy Skills
In order to support students’ math and literacy skills, educators should select an interactive software solution that allows them to create engaging, customizable lessons and nurtures the learning development of early learners. This software should work with both the touchscreen and the student’s personal device. Teachers should not have to worry about lost letter tiles or paper cut-outs of Word Work, or misplacing a manipulative that teaches math and counting skills. There should be a whole array of built-in, ready-made tools, as well as the ability to customize educational content.
While traditional stationary methods can delay the learning process and completely disengage students from the subject, high-quality interactive software solutions can help accelerate a student’s early math and literacy skills. The real-time, collaborative nature of the software allows students to connect with the content instantly and permits teachers to identify and respond to student mistakes and successes almost immediately.
Build Core Competencies
Young children need to develop core competencies in computer and technology use. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), these basic skills in technology operation should be achieved by the age of five. (NAEYC, pg.4). Starting the learning process in preschool is therefore both important and necessary. By using a writing tool or manipulating content on a screen with the touch of a finger, the fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination of early learners can be enhanced. “Young children need opportunities to develop the ‘technology-handling’ skills associated with early digital literacy that are akin to the ‘book-handling’ skills associated with early literacy development.” (National Institute for Literacy 2008)
Preschool and early learning is all about discovery, exploration and imaginative play. Through interactive classrooms, the farthest reaches of the world -- indeed, the galaxy -- become alive with crisp sounds, colorful images, and real-time video. For instance, they can take a “jungle safari” at recess and continue it in high definition back inside the classroom by visiting live webcam websites such as the one provided by the San Diego Zoo. Or, they can do a flyby of Pluto and participate in a video chat with experts in the field. The NAEYC supports this stating, “screen media can expose children to animals, objects, people, landscapes, activities, and places that they cannot experience in person.” (NAEYC, pg. 7). Students can take more control of their learning and expand their own horizons rather than depend on the teacher doing it from a laptop plugged into a projector.
Flexible, interactive technology can provide the foundation for a daily routine that is adaptable to busy and energetic pre-kindergarten students. Despite the many interruptions and changes faced in these classrooms, technology can help create more structure and focus. Whether technology is being implemented for learning centers, read-aloud time, the morning meeting, or even just for movement breaks, students will be more engaged and teachers will be able to provide a more supportive environment. Open up GoNoodle on an interactive touchscreen for indoor recess or sing-alongs. Visit Storyline Online for read alouds with closed captioning. Display ClassDojo to document and track student progress and behavior in real time. “Technology tools support the ways educators measure and record development, document growth, plan activities, and share information with parents, families, and communities," says the NAEYC.
The world in which a child grows up today is vastly different from the one we experienced as children. Therefore, it is important -- even vital -- for our early learners to have access to interactive technology. In an increasingly digital world, if students don’t have access to this type of technology, not only will they miss out on the benefits of this technology, but they will learn in a manner which is not conducive to their future environments. We need to recognize and meet the present as well as future needs of these digital natives so they are best prepared to succeed. In a society where technology is used as a tool at home, at work, and in school, providing our youngest learners with the opportunities to explore technology in thoughtful ways and promote digital citizenship is one of our many jobs as educators.
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