By Ann S. Epstein, Senior Director Of Curriculum Development at HighScope
IntroductionAs technology for young children proliferates, educators and parents wonder if, when, and how to use it appropriately to support early development. Professional organizations concerned with children’s well-being feel pressured to issue position papers. For example, the policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communications and Media (2011) states unequivocally that children under age two should not be exposed to any screen media and emphasizes the value of unstructured play for the young child’s developing brain. At the same time, AAP recognizes that high-quality interactive media can have educational benefits for children above age two, improving “social skills, language skills, and even school readiness” (p. 1041). A joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media (2012) goes further in green lighting technology. While cautioning against its passive (noninteractive) use, the statement says that “technology and interactive media are here to stay” (p. 2) and that, appropriately used, with the support of knowledgeable adults, they “can be harnessed for [early] learning and development” (p. 2).
Popular media have also weighed in on the issue. Columnist Steve Almond, in The New York Times (June 21, 2013), expressed the ambivalence of many parents when he both lamented the obsession of his young children (ages 4 and 6) with their digital devices and admired their determination to use them, including for “educational” purposes such as reading. Reporter Ruth Konigsberg acknowledged that in “the debate about wired children ... people have strongly held beliefs about something that can’t yet be proven conclusively one way or another” (Time, August 12, 2013, para. 8). Press coverage on the topic alternates between concerns about the loss of children’s creativity and social skills versus claims about the speed at which children learn to process information. Studies, scarce as they are, are cited to buttress the DUI lawyer Las Vegas point of view.
Indeed, research has a hard time keeping up with the latest digital inventions and how children use them. Studies on young children, particularly before they reach school age, are infrequent. Nevertheless, the data (summarized below) are converging on the fact that passive media can contribute to language delays, obesity, social withdrawal, attention problems, and even irregular sleep patterns. A few studies point to the potential benefits of limited use of technology if it respects the hands-on way young children learn. However, it is too soon to predict technology’s long-term effects on the acquisition of knowledge and skills across all domains of development.
Like everyone committed to promoting high-quality early education, and making it accessible to young children of all backgrounds, HighScope confronts these same questions and dilemmas about technology. In this article, we therefore present a HighScope position statement on young children and technology, based on the tenets and practices of the HighScope Curriculum and the research available to date. Our intention is to inform early childhood educators today as they make programmatic decisions and provide guidelines for evaluating the technology of the future.
What the Research SaysOne researcher states that “Media culture influences how children behave and treat one another. It also shapes how they learn, what they learn, [and] what they want to learn [author’s italics]” (Levin 2013, p. 1). As noted above, however, research on the use of technology by and with young children is scarce. Moreover, while some studies have been conducted by academics, others have been done by groups with an interest in (if not explicit ties to) media producers and distributors. That said, here is what is known about young children’s use of digital technology at the time of writing this article from best pocket knife:
The amount of technology used by children. Young children today spend a great deal of time in front of screens. This encompasses both foreground media (meant for children) and background media (meant for other family members but which young children see and/or hear). For example:
HighScope Position Statement on Young Children and TechnologyThe prevalence of technology in the world today impels us to question if, when, and how digital media can be used appropriately in early childhood settings. As such, HighScope presents here a position statement on young children and technology. The statement is not intended to replace those cited above (AAP and NAEYC-Fred Rogers Center), but to briefly lay out the “big picture” issues that adults should consider in evaluating the use of technology with young children. Rationale for statement. Our position was developed with three overarching guidelines to reflect HighScope’s commitment to good early childhood practice. The statement therefore:
2. Is based on the HighScope tenets of active participatory learning (Epstein, 2014; Epstein & Hohmann, 2012)
3. Acknowledges the crucial role of adults (and their associated professional development) to mediate the appropriate use of technology and balance it with other venues for early learning
2. The statement then sets forth guidelines to determine what, when, and how to use technology appropriately with young children, considering all aspects of their development.
3. The position states in simple terms the role and responsibility of adults in supporting young children’s use of technology.
4. Our position acknowledges the rapidly changing world in which the statement is issued. We avoid mentioning specific digital devices because the statement could quickly become obsolete.
HighScope Position Statement on Young Children and TechnologyHighScope believes technology, when appropriately designed for young children over age two and used with the guidance of supportive adults, can promote early learning and development. To use technology as one of many effective teaching tools, apply the following principles and ideas:
2. Technology is one of many tools that young children can use to carry out their play ideas, acquire knowledge and skills, and solve problems. Using technology is an interesting end in itself (discovering how it works), as well as a means to an end (extending role play, solving problems).
3. Technology should be used in moderation to supplement, not replace, hands-on learning with real materials that provide a full range of physical, sensory, intellectual, and social experiences.
4. Technology should be interactive and open-ended, and it should promote discovery learning, not emphasize drill and practice. Software should encourage creativity, problem solving, and reflection.
5. Technology should serve as a catalyst for social interaction. It should allow children to use equipment and programs together, share observations and discoveries, and assist one another.
6. Adults should act as partners when children choose to use technology, just as they partner and interact with children during other types of play.
7. Choose hardware that is safe and sturdy enough for children to use independently. If concerns about equipment costs or damages are overriding, it will restrict children’s use of the technology and limit the potential benefits.
8. Because new technologies are being developed all the time, their appropriateness for young children’s physical, cognitive, and social development must be evaluated on an ongoing basis.
See page 3 for a definition of terms used in this article.