Social Media in Early Childhood Programs

Parent: “What did you do today?”

Child: “Nothing.”

That’s the classic exchange at dinner tables around the country, much to the exasperation of parents everywhere.

But technology is beginning to change that.

Teachers are using resources such as Twitter and Facebook to help their students share their learning and achievements with their family and friends, both during the school day and later, at home. After a field trip to the beach, students may want to share with their social network what kind of new lake or ocean life they saw. After a classroom visit with a farmer, they many want to share what they learned about taking care of sheep. Instead of saying, “What did you do today?,” parents can now say, “What happened with the sheep?”

As a classroom’s (private or public) network grows, the class can see who is following them and write their tweets or posts accordingly. It’s both a motivation to share, and a way to imbue some basic digital literacy skills.

When using social media, schools and preschools have a choice about whether their networks should be private or public and if they’re public, how public should they be. Conversations about why to choose one method or the other can be important learning opportunities for a school community, and there are many factors to consider.

blog_chart-300x400At Catherine Cook School in Chicago, where I am the director of education technology, our school’s Twitter account @CathCookSchool and Facebook page are public, but we do not post faces of children in the images since that permission is not granted in our media release form. When we have students “practice” blogging, they use Kidblog.org, so their pages are private and managed by the teacher. The only people who can see the pages are their classmates and their teacher.

Technology can also help students develop a sense of inquiry. Teachers naturally help students develop that sense by inviting questions from them. Now children can also tweet or post their questions to followers or friends.

Young children are learning a key literacy in this information-rich world: that there are multiple resources to draw from, including teachers, books, peers, family members, videos, photographs, and more. Tweeting or posting a question is one way for children to authentically try out using people as resources without having to ask the question face-to-face.

Schools and preschool centers have also begun blogging as a way to communicate with families. When the idea of school blogs arises, a common response is, “I already have a website.” Yet the two are very different. Blogs invite conversation and are updated more frequently. They offer a way for managers and teachers to describe classroom events in detail, and they provide an opportunity to share the thoughts and intentions behind learning experiences. Through examples of school events and learning experiences, families are better able to understand their child’s growth, development, learning, and contributions to the school community.

{photo_3} QR codes (quick response)—those bar-code-like squares popping up everywhere—are another way to instantaneously provide families with access to information. In school, a QR code could be posted on a bulletin board next to a child’s artwork. A parent or anyone with a smart phone can scan the QR code, and follow an audio link to hear their child describing his or her artwork. Teachers can include QR codes in newsletters, linked to videos of classroom events or reminders for upcoming events.

Teachers at my school have explored all sorts of ways to use QR codes to share information with families. This QR code (at left) takes parents to a video with a quick recap of a Skype conversation with children’s author Todd Parr. This Skype conversation was a culminating experience after an in-depth author study.

Not sure where to begin? Here are some tips for getting started:

Five Steps for Educators Getting Started with Social Media:

1. A first step is to develop a release/consent form for all families enrolled. This form should succinctly outline how the school, classroom, and children will be presented on the web through the program’s social media networks.

2. Consider holding a workshop to discuss how the social media networks will support children’s learning. Involve families directly. Each school population is different, so use your knowledge of your school’s population to determine if it is necessary to hold one or multiple family workshops describing and exploring the use of social media. Providing this knowledge ahead of time is proactive and can put families at ease.

3. Share the school’s Twitter handle, Facebook page, or blog site with families so they can see how they are being used.

4. Consider having adults and teachers post at fist, then slowly begin introducing the idea of social media to the students. Over time, depending on their ages, begin inviting children into the process of posting and sharing.

5. Invite families to share the Twitter handle with other family and friends to expand the school or preschool’s audience.

1Comment

  • Angela / 22 January 2017 3:35

    I am looking forward to learning and practicing ways for the children to communicate with their families about all the fun and learning activities that occur in school. Possibly a post of a field trip experience or a cool project at school.

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