Front of black iPad 2. • Photo by Mono
Front of black iPad 2. • Photo by Mono

With the introduction of Apple’s iPad in 2010, tablet computers have found their way into educational settings at every level, and particularly for Pre K teaching. Education Week reported last year on a study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop in New York. The study looked at the education category of Apple’s app store, which sports more than 500,000 educational apps. Of the 200 best selling apps in the education category, 58 percent were for toddlers and preschoolers.

While advancements in technology have allowed for new tools and applications for teaching in a Pre K setting, educators warn that, in this new frontier of education, caution must be taken in choosing developmentally appropriate software. Educators are also asked to find the right balance in using technology with other more traditional classroom activities.

In 2012, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center produced a joint position statement on the use of technology and interactive media in early-childhood programs. The statement recommended a list of best practices:

• Evaluate technology and interactive media carefully before introducing them to children for their support of creativity, exploration, and play.

• Provide a balance of other activities for children that include active, hands-on engagement with the world, using the technology as a support.

• Use technology to support adult-child interactions, such as through the use of interactive e-books.

The statement also listed practices to avoid:

• Prohibit the passive use of non-interactive technologies such as television, videos, and DVDs before the age of 2 in early-childhood programs, and discourage passive and non-interactive use of technology between the ages of 2 and 5.

• Avoid technological versions of activities that are not developmentally appropriate, such as electronic worksheets for preschoolers.

• Don’t allow technology to replace real-world activities. For example, a touch screen can be used to produce art, but should not replace paints, markers, crayons, or other materials.

Here in Seattle, the Denise Louie Education Center has been working to find a balance in using new technology as just one tool among many in their targeted learning strategies, according to Director of Child Development and Disabilities Sylvia LeRahl.

“Two years ago we received a large grant to purchase computers for our children,” LeRahl said. “They were touch computers and those are easily accessible by the kids.”

The teachers are able to look at the data for how each student is using the interactive programming and then individualize their lesson plans. Most of the programs take the form of games that might, for example, teach children to identify letters, words, and beginning sounds of words.

“[Technology] appeals to another learning style,” LeRahl said. “We are definitely striving to reach all learning styles of children, so it does meet that. It reinforces the skills that teachers are teaching. It helps children to gain that sort of computer literacy that they will utilize later on in life.”

LeRahl said that a vast majority of the children at the center are low income and the computer use helps to raise the level of equity in the community.

“Children who are low income and probably don’t have those resources at home can come here and they have access to computers so they’re on the level with they’re peers,” LeRahl said.

While the benefits of technology in early learning are taken advantage of, the center takes precautions to not overuse the tablet computers.

“I think there are a lot of negatives,” LeRahl said. “I would say arguably the most important aspect of early childhood education is building social emotional skills, and technology doesn’t really facilitate that.”

Educators have to be careful about how much they rely on technology because children need to also learn the social emotional skills that they really can only get through interacting with other children and adults, LeRahl said.

“Taking turns, making friends, sharing, and all of those social skills really are void for the most part when you’re looking at a computer screen,” LeRahl said. “And of course there’s such a thing as physical movement. We don’t want to rely too much on a passive sort of technology where children aren’t able to get up and move and explore the world with their bodies.”

While pioneer educators cautiously integrate technology into their curriculum, more research is needed to verify best practices.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center said in its joint statement: “Further research is needed to better understand how young children use and learn with technology and interactive media and also to better understand any short- and long-term effects.”

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