Developmentally Appropriate Practices and Technology In Early Childhood

Technology in Early Childhood and Developmentally Appropriate Practices

Perhaps I made an error when naming this website. I think the name freaks early childhood educators out a little bit. I imagine their thinking goes something like this, “Technology?? In Early Childhood?? What kind of developmentally appropriate practices heresy is this?? ‘Technology’ can’t be ‘developmentally appropriate.’ Those two phrases don’t belong in the same sentence.” And then I consider what sort of images they might see in their head: A grid of desks, 4×5, with a computer sitting on top of each desk and a preschooler stationed at each desk, eyes glued to the monitor with little feet dangling from a chair that is much too tall. The children are sitting there, motionless, staring at screens for hour, after hour after hour. And that image, really freaks them out. Honestly, if that’s what I were seeing in my mind when I thought about technology in early childhood, I’d be freaked out too.

 

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Fortunately, it’s not what I see. It doesn’t match the reality of our classroom at all. I’ve addressed this issue before, in one of my earliest posts, Is it Really OK to Put Technology in an Early Childhood Classroom? but in the time since I wrote that first post, my thinking on the issue has become more clear. My experiences in actually teaching technology to young children have informed my ideas about just what exactly it looks like to implement technology in a way that is developmentally appropriate for four and five year olds. I’ve put together a list of statements that help define what a developmentally appropriate technology in early childhood program would look like.

Technology in Early Childhood is deliberate:

We’re not just throwing children in front of screens because it’s a time killer, because its convenient, or even because it’s fun. We’re exposing them to carefully selected apps and activities because we believe that those activities will improve their learning and thinking. We’ve chosen apps and created technology based activities that we truly believe will benefit our students in the long run. Not all screens are created equally. Asking a child to create something on an iPad, or even play a skill based game is a far different thing from putting them in front of a TV to watch a movie or show.

Technology in Early Childhood

is age appropriate:

We make sure that the apps we select for our children are introducing our students to concepts that are at their level. Whether we are asking them to play a skills based game, or asking them to create a piece of work (writing, video, art etc) on their iPad we ensure that the app and concepts are appropriate for the children that will be using them.

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Technology in Early Childhood

is limited (temporal):

As important as it is for us to be teaching children the skills that they are going to need to function in our computer based society, even more important is making sure that we’re not being excessive in our use of technology. Experts in the field vary in the ways that they recommend imposing limits. Some suggest a minutes per day limit (often 20-40 minutes), others suggest a more flexible activity based approach, but all of them agree that extended periods of time in front of a screen (hours) is not helpful. In our classroom, students spend at most 20-30 minutes, twice a week, on iPad based activities. Honestly, I’d be comfortable adding to that time, but logistics just don’t allow it.

Technology in Early Childhood

is open ended (conceptual):

Children need room to explore. Whether it’s in the block area or on the iPad, they need the freedom to build, make mistakes, rebuild, make more mistakes and rebuild again, and again, and again. When we lock children in to certain apps, or severely limit the ways that they can use technology, we limit their potential. Now of course we need to keep point number two firmly in mind as we allow children this freedom. We need to be certain that the material that they have access to is age appropriate, but as much as possible, we also need to allow them to make their own mistakes, do their own learning and have the freedom to explore a little bit. This is easier said than done. It takes a lot of work to create an environment on the iPad where a child can safely explore, just like it takes a lot of work to create a safe classroom environment, but it’s important none the less.

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Technology in Early Childhood

is creative:

My students sometimes play drill and practice games on their iPads. They just do. I’m glad they have a chance to practice many of those skills. But what they really love to do, and what I love to watch them do, is to build and create things with their iPads. They write stories with pictures and invented spelling. They create amazing pieces of art with drawing programs. They make short videos with their drawing programs and they create elaborate geometric designs with digital geoboards. It’s with these creative activities that the learning really happens. They get so excited about their creations that you can almost see the synapses firing as they build, design and create. Activities and apps that require creativity are more engaging and meaningful for our students and are the most important kind of technology activity to implement in an early childhood environment.

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Technology in Early Childhood

develops critical thinking skills:

The technology that we expose children to in an early childhood program should as much as possible engage them in higher level thinking skills, not passive activities. We want the activities we introduce to them to be encouraging them to think, just as they would have to think when they build a block structure or engage in a dramatic play activity. We want to plan and select activities that will ask children to think outside the box and act accordingly. Right now in our classroom, this happens when children play the “learn to code” apps that we’ve introduced to them. Coding requires complex, multidimensional thinking, often times teamwork, and a lot of logic. When you evaluate it in the context of Bloom’s Taxonomy, it ranks pretty high. I love the fact that the children are engaged in, and it turns out very capable of, such complex thinking. It’s important that this sophisticated thinking (which they also use in dramatic play and the block area, etc) also be part of the technology component of their day.

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Technology in Early Childhood

is one small part of a complete ECE program:

I saved this point for last because I think it is the most important, and the most often misunderstood. It’s so important, that I’m going to say it again: Technology in early childhood is one small part of a complete Early Childhood Education (ECE) program. It does not replace the program. You don’t take out the block area and put in iPads instead. You don’t replace the dress up area with a set of laptops. You don’t cut out outdoor play time in order to add more computer time. Even though a child can create fantastic art on an iPad, you keep the classroom easels up in the art center and keep them well stocked with real paint! Because paint is still important. And dress-up is important. And blocks are important. All of it is important. All of the components of a fantastic ECE program should remain firmly in place when one is looking at using technology in early childhood. Technology is just one piece that a teacher can add to his or her already balanced and rich ECE program. It adds to the program. It doesn’t take away.

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Comments

  1. says

    Karen, this is brilliant! I’m sharing it everywhere. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts so completely, while looking critically (not in a bad way!) at what you are doing in the classroom with students. It’s obvious how much care and attention you give to your young charges, and your technology program is the absolute epitome of “developmentally appropriate.” Well done, you rock!

  2. says

    Thanks Holly. It really means a lot to hear you say this. This is one of those posts that sat in the drafts folder for quite a while. I wasn’t sure I was actually going to be able to push the “publish” button. :)

  3. says

    This really is an excellent post! Thank you so much for writing it! Explaining how technology can be good for young children and developmentally appropriate is difficult, and you put it into words so beautifully!
    Bravo!
    Heidi Butkus

    • says

      Thank you Heidi! It’s so nice to know that there are other early childhood teachers out there that see the value of using technology in their classrooms. It’s nice to not feel like a lone ranger. :)

  4. Margaret says

    Hi, I like your blog and am excited to use some of your ideas in my Kinder class. I have a question about the sight word QR bingo. I want to try this with my kids, but it seems cumbersome; am I doing something wrong? I am new to QR codes so I may well be doing things the long way. When I tried it, I needed to scan the code using i-nigma. Then a prompt came up “Connect to the internet” so I needed to connect to the internet in order to hear the audio file. Then, I needed to double click the button to get back to the i-nigma screen to start over for the next word. Am I being dense? Is there any easier way? If so, please share it with me.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • says

      Hi Margret,
      That does sound really cumbersome! We played the Sightword Bingo game this week and didn’t have to go through nearly as many steps. We scanned the code and everything else “just happened.” I think I would suggest using a different QR code scanner. The one in this post works well for us. If that doesn’t work, I think I might look at the settings for your iPad to see if it’s choosing a browser besides safari. That’s just a hunch though. I hope that helps! -Karen

  5. Yolie says

    Hi! I’ve just recently started following your blog and it is great. I loved this post and wish I could print it out and carry it around with me. I’ve been in early childhood education for 12 years and the “computer teacher” for 10. I absolutely love it! That being said, it has been a long and sometimes uphill journey to get people to see that technology adds to and enriches education even in the preschool years. Thank you for all the knowledge you’ve shared on your blog. I’m really excited about using QR codes and Aurasma. And am curious to know how your Aurasma number writing activity turned out when used in the classroom.
    Thanks again!

    • says

      Hi, thanks for the kind words! It can be tough to be passionate about both technology and early childhood education. The worlds don’t often overlap. We had a lot of fun again this year with the QR codes. The kids love scanning stuff. The Aurasma activity never really caught on. I kept the cards looped on a key-ring on my desk all year long, thinking there would be a good way to implement the system and there never really was. It was a little disappointing, considering the time I poured into creating the activity. I think that was kind of the downside- the effort to create the Augmented Reality stuff wasn’t quite matched in learning payoff. I think too that I became more interested in finding way for the kids to do their own creating with technology, rather than consuming activities that I created. I bet older kids might be able to build some really neat Aurasma projects! Let me know if you decide to do some Aurasma stuff with any of your younger students. I’d love to hear about it!