It’s no surprise that we are living in a digital world. The year 2020 propelled young children across the world to rapidly learn how to use a standard mouse and keyboard in order to participate in school. It has been a wild period of time in which we as educators and parents must be intentional with our use of technology in the preschool classroom.
- What type of technology is appropriate to use in the classroom?
- How often should young children have screen time?
- How can we have a healthy balance with the use of technology in teaching the whole child?
Well, this article will explore that so you can leave feeling equipped to incorporate technology in a healthy and appropriate way.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), together with the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, published a position statement endorsing the use of digital technology for young children:
“Technology and interactive media are tools that can promote effective learning and development when they are used intentionally by early childhood educators, within the framework of developmentally appropriate practice, to support learning goals established for individual children.“
Some programs believe that technology has no place in the classroom while others use technology in every aspect of their program. Depending on your school’s philosophy and your personal convictions will determine which program you think is best for your child. Just like with any healthy program, balance is key. Let’s explore some great ways to appropriately incorporate technology into the preschool classroom and at home.
1. Be mindful and intentional
When it comes to using tablets and interactive whiteboards, the activities should have a purpose and be mindful rather than mindless. What this means is instead of just allowing children to surf through YouTube aimlessly or play games like Roblox, incorporate technology into your lesson plans with intentionality. If learning about dinosaurs, have tablets at one of your learning centers set up with a certain dino activity locked in place so students can practice a specific skill that has to do with your theme. Use the interactive whiteboard to take virtual tours of dino museums, etc. Children in preschool should not be able to just aimlessly wander the internet or random apps. There needs to be clear objectives and reasoning with what they are doing that complements the learning outcomes.
Examples of great apps/sites to explore are:
- Hungry Caterpillar Play School
- Quick Math, Jr.
- Starfall ABC’s
- Brainpop Jr.
- PBS KidsGames
- Goodness Shapes
- Khan Academy Kids
- Number Run
- Homer Learn & Grow
- Barefoot World Atlas
- Seek by iNaturalist
2. Be hands-on and active
Be sure to choose activities that get kids moving and interacting, rather than just sitting there staring at a screen. Let’s be honest- they probably are at home already. And, no judgment there- it’s okay in moderation, but at school, it is not the appropriate time for children to just be watching random shows or clips. Using apps like Brain Pop and Go Noodle will get kids moving and out of their seats in a meaningful way.
Our school recently purchased a BEAM, which is a projector that projects games onto the floor that children can interact with. They absolutely love it, and it gets them moving, jumping, stomping, sliding, etc. all while still learning. We were able to get technology grants with this, so be sure to look into ways you can get funding if budget is an issue for you.
If you have an interactive whiteboard, it’s a great way to get preschoolers involved and engaged with writing, drawing, and matching activities during your whole group or small group instruction.
The use of video/camera equipment is a great feature to have in the classroom, especially when students are invited to participate. In my preschool and PreK classrooms, one of the “jobs” of our students is “photographer.” That student can document things throughout the day like children playing, working on projects, reciting songs/poems, etc. Just make sure you have photograph release permissions for each family before taking photos and videos. It’s also great to have photos printed and posted throughout the classroom so that students can be proud of their work.
3. Be careful and educated
If you’re not sure how to go about making sure you have safeguards on your technology, be sure to seek training. There are many apps and websites that are dangerous for children to be part of. For example, while certain video sites created for children may seem harmless, there are times where inappropriate content will be sneakily added to these sites and can harm children. Also, certain gaming sites have chatting features and social networking that children should not be exposed to due to the potential of predators. I suggest having a professional come in and train educational staff as well as parents on what to do and how to do it in terms of making sure we know what our children are watching and doing on technology.
Children are getting younger and younger with being exposed to inappropriate videos and explicit pictures. Some are stumbled upon without meaning to, and then they are not able to unsee. The damage it can do is way more than parents realize, and so it is important to do all we can to keep that exposure from happening.
According to a Washington Post article, it is important for parents to have balance when it comes to technology, and even high-tech executives in Silicon Valley have parameters in place for their children. The article states, “…a child passively staring at a screen is different from one who is actively communicating with a grandparent via FaceTime or using online tools to develop creative projects, say, to create animation or to edit videos. For younger kids, strict guidelines can be critical. But as children get older, it’s important for parents to have conversations with them and to establish times for them to be offline. Monitoring apps such as Bark or OurPact work best in concert with conversations around use, not in lieu of them.”
4. Be diverse in use of different digital tools
If you are going to incorporate technology into the preschool classroom, be sure to have a balance with what kinds you use. If you have only personal tablets or only interactive whiteboards or only desktops, students can miss out on having a well-rounded exposure to technology. It is a good skill for children to learn how to use a traditional mouse and keyboard. It’s also a good skill to be able to navigate a tablet supervised. Learning how to use a camera and video camera are also skills that children can learn within balance and reason. Learning how to be gentle and take care of this equipment is also important for children to learn.
5. Be willing to partner with parents and school staff
Technology is very useful when it comes to communication. It is important to make sure that it isn’t the sole form of communication, but using apps like HiMama (I promise they don’t pay me to say this!) is something that will help cut time in half when it comes to documenting a child’s day and sharing photos and messages. The best part for parents is the ability to receive photos and videos in real-time and being able to “like” and comment on them and interact with the staff. But do not let email, text, or app communication be the only way. You must have face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication as well.
Using platforms like Zoom and Google Meets are also helpful when conducting meetings or trainings. Even when this pandemic is in our rearview mirror, we will still utilize these platforms because of the ease in which they can be used. But again, we all need balance. Don’t let a Zoom call replace an in-person get-together with your staff if it’s possible.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, balance is the key and theme here. If you don’t want to incorporate technology into your classroom at all, that is your choice. If you want to have QR codes for everything and the latest and greatest sources of technology that are out there, that is also your choice. Just be sure to have balance in all that you do. Have equal amounts of outside play, drawing, painting, running, building as you also incorporate tablet play, photo-documenting, and virtual options. We can all benefit from more balance in our lives, and technology is not excluded from that sentiment.