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Digital Devices in the Early Childhood Classroom

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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I recently had the honor of participating in a Studentcentricity podcast episode hosted by the talented Rae Pica. I joined Warren Buckleitner, founder of the Children's Technology Reiview, and author, professor, and early childhood education expert Diane Levin to discuss the hot topic of digital devices in Early Childhood learning environments. The following are my take aways from the conversation. To listen to the lively Studentcentricity podcast click here and to read the full Take Aways from the podcast click here

Digital devices in the hands of our youngest learners can either enhance and help them develop  or hinder, possibly even hurt their development. The fact of the matter is digital devices are a part of our modern world. Even if a family chooses not to own a single device, their child/ren will still, inevitably, come face-to-face with a screen sometime in their young years. The truth is, if/when a child attends a school, they will have access to some version of a digital device be it a tablet, laptop, desktop computer, mobile device, or digital display board such as an interactive whiteboard.

Knowing digital devices are an inevitable part of the environments of young children, how can we be better equipped to guide them in their use of digital devices? I would like to suggest employing the Three C’s as defined by Lisa Guernsey in her 2007 book Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age 5. Guernsey asserts that when making choices about childhood device use, we must do so through the lense of Content, Context, and the Child. 

When focusing on Content we should ask ourselves, “How does this device or application help children engage, express, imagine, or explore? What content or information is the media tapping into or teaching?” Content is all about provoking a child’s curiosity, helping them access experiences and opportunities not readily available to them in their physical environment, and teaching or reinforcing new knowledge and skills. Several teachers at my school are effectively using devices to enhance content delivery and mastery by guiding students to use multiple apps together (app smashing) to create content rich, class-made digital books. Click here to learn how our young learners are creating digital books at my school.   

This takes us to the next C, Context. The question we ask when thinking about Context is, “How does the digital device or application complement, and not interrupt, child’s natural play?” When employing Context, it leads the adult to serve as a child’s Media Mentor as suggested by Guernsey. A Media Mentor is a trusted adult who accepts the responsibility and takes the opportunity to model effective device use to children. Modeling includes direct modeling where the adult is teaching a child how to use a device or application and indirect, secondary modeling whereby the adult demonstrates digital citizenship, including technology moderation. Context means paying attention to when and where technology is accessible and used. A best practice in early childhood education is to use devices collaboratively, whereby communication is naturally sparked and supported, rather than solo student use which too often extinguishes communication all together. Children using an Osmo together to complete Tangram puzzles or taking digital pictures to document their creations in a story retelling center are great examples of Context in action that I have observed in my own school.

Guernsey’s final C is the wonderfully unique Child. Keeping the child at the center leads us to ask, “What are the right tech tools and digital experiences for each child’s needs, abilities, and developmental levels?” Here, the educator melds their knowledge of the individual child, thinking about the child’s interests, curiosities, and motivators, with their understanding of developmentally appropriate, best practices and early childhood pedagogy. With the child always at the center, the educator is in tune with knowing which digital experience or device to bring into their learning environment in order to support student curiosities and spark greater wonder as they learn about their world and how it works. For example, a certain child I know with a passion for marine life was delighted to learn more about individual ocean animals and their habitats by being given the opportunity to explore PebbleGo.com, an interactive research site for young learners and emergent readers.

My final thought is this, digital devices in early childhood settings are not something to fear or ignore. Early childhood educators must employ their knowledge of Content, Context, and the Child at the forefront of their decisions about devices, applications, and digital experiences. If we do this with fidelity, we will most certainly equip our students for the world they live in by facilitating increasingly enriching learning experiences enhanced by the digital devices which already flood our modern world.

To learn more about Guernsey’s 3 C’s and the research behind it, check out her 2007 book Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age 5 or watch her 2014 TEDxMidAtlantic talk: How the iPad affects young children, and what we can do about it.


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My name is Heidi Veal and at the heart of everything, I am a teacher. I believe education is a calling and I am honored to fulfill my calling to make a difference in the lives of the school community I serve. This is my 16th year in education and during those years taught multiple grades at the elementary level, served as a Response to Intervention Specialist, an Instructional Coach, an Assistant Principal at Lawson Early Childhood School, and now as a district Early Childhood Programs Administrator at the central office. I am passionate about Leadership, Ed-Tech, Special Education, and all things Early Childhood! I am a co-founder and co-moderater of #ECEchat and #LeadUpTeach, a founding member of the #LeadUpChat PLN, a co-organizer of #EdcampDallas, and blog here on EdWords, LeadUpNow, Ready Rosie, and with my husband Jeff on jhveal.com

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Guest Sunday, 19 May 2019