Technology in early childhood education; does limiting screen time limit learning?

As a nanny and future educator of young children, I have been involved in many conversations about screen time. When to start, how much is too much, the detrimental affects of letting your child spend too much time watching toy unboxing videos on YouTube.  As a college student, however, I have also been involved in conversations about struggling to use technology to its fullest in school and at work. I have heard other students make similar statements, nodding in agreement when I tell the story of how I almost failed a project my first semester of college because I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what Google Slides was. I have discussed this gap with my peers in the classroom only to go to work right after and tell my charges that they need to put down the iPad because they have already used their 30 minutes of screen time for the week. How do we, as parents and educators and all of the rest of the people running the world, expect to deprive our children of experiences with technology and have them grow up to be technologically fluent and easily utilize all of the tech available to them in this increasingly digital age? Should the war be on screen time, or how we let our children use it? What if instead of allowing 30 minutes of screen time per week for Fortnite, we allow them 3 hours, but encourage them to create short films, express their ideas on a blog, research their favorite hobbies and authors, make music,  access books online, practice reading, math, and science skills on educational websites, animate digital stories, Skype with a relative or peer, or work on their time management?  To gain more insight on technology in the classroom and answer some of my questions about screen time, I interviewed two elementary school teachers. 

Introducing our experts

Becky Heineck is a career elementary teacher and currently works for Leander ISD here inTexas where she teaches fourth grade, but has worked in other school districts teaching all elementary grades. Lily Pacheco is also a career teacher in El Paso, TX and teaches 5th and 6th grade in Socorro ISD. Mrs. Pacheco has worked in schools and in specific programs focusing on technology integration. 

In our conversation we talked about the benefits of integrating technology into the classroom, not only for students but for teachers, the negative connotations surrounding screen time, how changes in the way that we use screen time can benefit students, and specific types of technology that can be utilized. 

screen time

When people hear screen time, it usually evokes a negative response. Traditionally, screen time is viewed as children mindlessly watching TV or playing video games, rotting their brains and depriving themselves of sun. Screen time is so heavily moderated, but does it have to be? This article, by Ryan Barone highlights good and bad screen time and talks about the balance needed when using technology. And its true, children cannot be expected to use screen time the right way on their own, and a large part of responsible screen time relies on parents and teachers providing guidance and maintaining a balance between life and screen time, no matter how beneficial the screen time may be. 

Mrs. Heineck, Mrs Pacheco, and I discussed screen time at length and the benefits of screen time if used correctly. 

“Technology in the past has too often been used by teachers as a pacifier rather than a teaching tool.”

Mrs. Pacheco

We discussed the use of technology as a “pacifier” and the harm that can bring to students in their education and in their relationship with technology. We also discussed the use of technology in the classroom and the possible benefits that it can bring when it is used correctly. 

tech integration in the classroom

The benefits of using technology in the classroom are abundant- if used correctly. Mrs. Pacheco told me about a program at her school called WIN, that focuses on a one to one ratio of students and devices. This means that each student has their own device to use in class, and can utilize it to its fullest without have to share. Her students use tablets to follow along with the lessons like this one, where they receive directions, answer polls in class, ask questions, watch videos, complete activities, and play games. The teacher can also check the students tablet number and can tell if the student is in the lesson with them or has wondered off, and allows the teacher to help students stay on track. Students can also see when their peers are in our out of the lesson, and Mrs. Pacheco told me that her students are able to police each other, called out other students who are not participating and getting them back on track. Mrs. Heineck told me about tablets that her students use in a similar way, and are allowed to take home to access e-books, complete research, and complete activities and play games related to the coursework. She also described a program where students can work collaboratively on projects, make edits, give suggestions, and the teachers and students could monitor everyone’s changed and contributions. 

Benefits

Both of these experiences with technology integration encourage student interaction, interest based learning, and collaboration. Students are policing each other and keeping each other on track, they are given time to explore their own interests and work on individual projects, and it keeps students engaged in the lesson rather than listening passively. Having access to and knowledge of technology and its usage also allows teachers to do more in-depth projects where students can make and create their own work. This ideology is catching on in many classrooms. In fact, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), released a position statement on  technology and interactive media in early childhood programs (ages birth to 8 years old). The position statement discusses the many benefits of technology integration and reinforces the idea that technology is here to stay, and our children will benefit by knowing how to use it to its fullest. 

Why introducing technology in early childhood is crucial

Mrs. Heineck recalled her lack of experience with technology as a child and her children’s lack of technology in the home and at school and related it to her difficulty with grasping new technologies today. Mrs. Pacheco, on the other hand, recalled her use of technology as a young child where she grew up with her dad, who at the time was getting a degree in technology, in a home filled with the newest tech, and related that to her technology literacy now. Children that are introduced to technology in the home and in school at a young age have a much higher chance of becoming fluent with technology as an adult. 

In closing 

Technology is here to stay. Children are growing up in an increasingly digital age, and we have to support that. In order for children to become more familiar with technology and be able to use it fully as an adult, we must integrate it in childhood. There are so many benefits to the right type of screen time, how can we let such a vital and effective tool go underutilized in the classroom? Its time to stop the idea that screen time is a dirty word, and realize its benefits when used responsibly. 

Works referenced- 

Ryan, et al. “7 Benefits of Technology for Children | Early Childhood Development.” ID Tech, http://www.idtech.com/blog/benefits-of-technology-for-children. 

“Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.” 2009, http://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/topics/PS_technology_WEB.pdf.

A special thank you to Becky Heineck and Lily Pacheco for letting me pick their brain. 

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One thought on “Technology in early childhood education; does limiting screen time limit learning?

  1. Great writing job! All is good as long as the importance of balance and material substance are monitored and guided. The balance of time is equally important. And, yes, many parents use screen time as a babysitter and quality isn’t monitored. If the quality of school-time screen time is thoughtfully planned and monitored, it’s actually a must in today’s world of technology. But there is a very fine line between quality and detrimental, even dangerous, screen time.

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