I let my daughter watch TV. This is my 2-year old glued to (part of) an episode of Mr. Rogers (or as she calls him, Ra-Ra).
I know about the research. Children learn best from free play with creative and/or natural materials and through interactions with adults. Too much screen time can lead to poor sleep, poor learning performance, poor social skills, and poor health outcomes for children (and adults too). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children before age 2, and no more than 1-2 hours a day for older children.
Nevertheless, teachers and children are inundated with technology. Children are immediately drawn to technology and often have access to smart phones and tablets. Teachers use apps for planning, assessment, and professional development. Websites, apps, videos, and TV programs are created specifically to engage children and teach them various social and academic skills. Education standards include phrases such as “technology literacy” and “21st century skills.”
It is easy to get confused about how technology fits in a child’s life and within the classroom. What programs support children’s learning? How do we know what are appropriate limits for children? Does interaction with devices count as hands-on learning? How can we intentionally plan for effective “tech” moments?
I think Jane Brody with the NY Times said it best: “Technology is a poor substitute for personal interaction”. To me, this means that technology in and of itself is not evil and some interaction with devices (within developmentally appropriate limits) can be fun, engaging, and even meaningful for children**. However, it is not a substitute for actual teacher-child interaction. In fact, experts on children’s media maintain that children learn little from interacting with devices on their own, but can gain content and skills when an adult participates with them.
So what does all of this mean for teachers?
What about your classroom? How do you ensure that effective interactions are included with technology use?
**Of course, some adaptive technologies and devices are necessary for children with special needs and may not be subject to the same limitations as other technology use.
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.