Digital Natives

Technology literate children

In recent years there has been a change in understanding regarding young children and technology. I have long since been an advocate for technology in early education, believing that our children as the citizens of the future should be encouraged to use technology in different aspects of their lives.

Children of today are moving towards a future which is undetermined, we don’t know what types of jobs will be available to them when they are adults, how society will have changed, but one thing is certain these children will need skills to make them sustainable, such as creativity, the ability to think critically, and work in groups and as a member of a team; they will need to have a flexible approach to work, be willing to change and move with the time. Innovative and resilient children are the way of the future without a doubt, and as adults who work with these children, it is the role of the Parent, Practitioners, Educators to ensure that we provide these children with the resources they need to be successful adults.

Growing Up in a Digital Age

The child in todays society accepts technology as the norm, it isn’t something new for them; they are what are often called “digital natives” having grown up in a society where technology is used throughout everyday life. McBlain et al (2017) describes the digital child as a child living in a time and culture, in a society where technology is readily available and used widely for a variety of things in their lives.

Teichert and Anderson (2014) indicate that due to societies immersion in technology, we find children engaging from a much younger age, while further studies query the suitability of such involvement for very young children; or are we doing them a dis-service by not working with them, teaching them how to use technology effectively and appropriately. Technology like any other tool or resource is only as good as the person behind it and if the resource is abused, then there will be problems.

A recent European Study showed technology as being a valuable part of a child’s life, when included as part of a balance engagement of activities including toys, imaginative play, outdoors, and face to face social interactions (Chaudron, 2015). Yet we still hear and read concerned reports about the amount of screen time children are subjected to, the impact of technology on time spent outdoors, increased levels of obesity, Ipads being used as babysitters, rather than serving as a valuable learning tool for young children.

Children as young as 2yrs and younger have been reported to use IPads and Mobile phones for several hours a day (Childwise, 2015); while older children spend up to 10.5 and 11hrs per week online (Ofcom, 2014).

Digital Media as a Resource

There has been a significant change over the years in terms of technology as a resource. When I recall my own experiences in Primary school (a while ago now), the teacher would wheel in the TV once or twice a week at a set time, to share with us some insightful programme to reinforce a concept which had been introduced earlier in the week. Even the TV has developed since then and we now have Smart TV’s with built in internet, recording facilities and the ability to replay different programmes if and when we require them.

Of course now in education we see much more than the TV, we have computers, Ipads, Interactive Whiteboards, in primary and secondary education, and while there is more interaction now from the children, often what we see is a tokenistic effort, with the Teacher using a Whiteboard to present a lesson, or children sharing a computer resource for a specific reason. More recently we see similar engagement in preschool settings, but this still remains limited to a few for numerous reasons:

  • Firstly there is still a stigma surrounding allowing very young children to engage independently with technology, for fear that we disrupt their natural development and ability to interact and engage with others.
  • Secondly often there is a lack of clear understanding or knowledge as to what these resources can bring to the classroom and to play opportunities for children; particularly if the child is allowed to engage independently, and the learning and reinforcement which comes with this experience. This can be due sometimes to our own inability at using technology, and coming from the Digital immigrant generation, which would be consider almost technology illiterate (by our children) I can understand some of the apprehensions shared by teachers and educators.
  • Finally and I suppose an important point, there is also cost and the fear that if an expensive item is broken it then has to be replaced etc, or perhaps funding technological resources is something which the budget just doesn’t stretch to replacing.
Introducing Technology during play

Personal experience has shown me that young children will engage, become
curious and independently attempt to solve problems when provided with activities that are supported by technology. Communication Skills are enhanced; peer interactions and peer guidance (Vygotsky, 1978) become more evident when children are involved (Siraj Blatchford, 2003; Magennis, 2015; Whitebread, 2015).

Through play children learn to engage, interact, support each other, empathise and support others (Vygotsky). Therefore if we introduce technology into this play environment we can help to promote these and other important life skills which children need to develop.

  • The child as a ReportAll children have a journalist/researcher inside them, they just love to ask questions, find out new facts; that natural curiosity makes them brilliant little investigators. Engaging with technology in this way promotes communication, social interaction, literacy and language skills. Children learn the importance of body language, and concepts around social cues, for example pausing, sharing empathy with others, awareness of individual space, and the skills to engage in conversation, pausing, waiting, listening.
  • Ipad – The possibilities for creativity and art activities involving the iPad in early education are endless. Children can access music on the iPad, share with others, and using a wide selection of instruments, create different sounds, levels of sound, rhythm, patterns, introducing early numeracy concepts. The Ipad can also help with storying, and when brought on outdoor adventures, it presents an array of ways to record and share this experience with others.
  • Interactive whiteboards – The interactive whiteboard brings with it so many different possibilities for children to engage, independently or as a group activity. Concepts such as mark making and symbolic representations (Bruner), provide emergent engagements with writing and literacy. Colour, shape and size all introduce emergent numeracy concepts, and through play children can learn these concepts without the fear of failure, or judgement.

There are so many other resources and ways of engaging with technology during play. Technology for supporting music for example; music has a magical way of uplifting us, calming and grounding us in the moment, as well as being a wonderful resource to enhance conceptual development. Give a child access to music through technology, they can develop their own likes and dislikes, explore and experiment with new sounds and language, develop the concept of sound, the ability to notice new things, watch, repeat, and conform to social rules, waiting for their turn, understanding rules related to rhythm and empathy for others involved, and so much more.

Devices such as light tables can be used to explore and introduce concepts such as colour, shade, bright and dark, shadows. Or to explore substances which children might find on outdoor adventures, leaves, plants, flowers, bugs, food and much more.

The camera can provide new and interesting ways of encouraging a child to share their
own learning experience. As in Reggio Emilia, children are involved in their own assessment when using a camera. They can decide which of their projects they wish to share; it is no longer the role of the adult but the role of the child to capture and share these experiences, to show progression.

There are many other forms of technology and ways in which we can engage and encourage to use these resources in positive ways when working with children, microscopes to allow children to investigate further items which they have discovered in the outdoors, scanners, printers, computers can all be used to encourage new and different ways for children to learn concepts which have already been introduced into their learning environment.

Moral Panic -Children’s Digital Lives

It is true that there has historically been a succession of moral panic around the impact of technology on young children. As previously discussed, concerns around limited outdoor activities, over indulgence with screen time impacting on language delay, obesity, and limited social interaction among peers. Dudeney et al (2013) correctly suggests this moral panic happens each time society is introduced to something new, supporting similar claims of Postman (1989); in his critique of disappearing childhoods, and pointing out that childhoods change and develop alongside society, and we need to accept this. Jenkins (2015) claims such divergent beliefs need to change and there is a need to move on critical claims seeing the Ipad as a babysitter for example; and rather focus on technology as a positive, enhancing the child’s experience in an important and interactive way, while preparing them for their future life in a technology rich environment.

Further considerations

Of course there are further considerations, E-safety for children, cyber bullying and how we as adults help children to deal with these issues. Ensuring children safely access the internet and parents and adults taking responsibility and utilising the safeguarding softwares which are available.

Accepting that overindulgence as with anything can have a negative impact, but asking ourselves as adults, is the answer to remove technology from these young children’s lives, to limit their engagement with a resource which ultimately is going to be the one skill they will need in their future lives; or is the answer to work with children and ensure they learn how to gain valuable insights from technology as a resource to enhance concepts already emerging at that young age.

References:

Chaudron, S. (2015) Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology: A Qualitative Exploratory Study across Seven Countries. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Childwise (2015) The Monitor Pre-School Report: Key Behaviour Patterns Among 0-4 Year Olds, London: Childwise

Dudeney, G. (2013) Digital Literacies, London: Routledge.

Jenkins, H. (2015) Tap, Click, Read: An interview with Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine (http://henryjenkins.org).
Magennis, M. (2011) ‘The Impact of ICT on pre-mathematical concepts in early years
children’, Belfast: Stranmillis.
Magennis, M. (2015) Enhancing Literacy Concepts: Digital natives and Cultural Tools, in
US – china Education, 5(9): 610-622.

McBlain, S. (2017) Contemporary Childhoods, London: SAGE.
McClure, E., Clements, D. H.,Guernsey, L., and Levine, M.H. (2017) STEM starts early:
Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in Early Childhood,
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.
Preston, C. (2021) STEM education in Early Childhood, in Campbell, C., Jobling., W.,
Howith, C. (ed) Science in Early Childhood, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Siraj –Blatchford, J., and Whitebread, D. (2003) Supporting information and
communication technology education in early childhood, Buckingham: OUP.
Stephen, C., Plowman, L., and McPake, J. (2010) Growing up with technology: young
children learning in a digital world, London, UK: Routledge.
Yelland, N. (2010) Knowledge building with ICT in the early years of schooling, He kupu:
The World 2(5): 33-44.
Whitebread, D., Kuvalija, M., O’Connor, A. (2015) ‘Quality in Early Childhood Education:
an international review and guide for Policy makers’, UK: University of Cambridge.

Published by Dr M

An Early Years Specialist in the areas of Education, Psychology, and Research, I am passionate about curriculum development and the benefits of IT in Early years for promoting creative thought, autonomy, and innovative teaching and learning. Throughout my career I have also been involved in raising awareness of the importance of outdoor play, the provision of training and development in Adult Education; improved Parental involvement, and also Psychological development and behavioural analysis particularly in children under 6yrs. As a Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I work with parents, schools, and preschools as consultant and mentor offering support and advice, training, and quality assurance with the aim of encouraging standardisation and recognition amongst the Early Years profession.

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