Tech in the Early Years: What Do We Know and Why Does It Matter?

For the past 18 months, I’ve had the opportunity to edit a new book, “Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning.”

Its authors were inspired by the legacy of Fred Rogers and his approach to the technology of his day. As he wrote in 1994,

No matter how helpful computers are as tools (and of course they can be very helpful tools), they don’t begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship, which is human and mutual. A computer can help you learn to spell HUG, but it can never know the risk or the joy of actually giving or receiving one.

Like Fred, the authors consider what is best for the child’s development and learning. And like Fred they share a commitment to using technology as a tool to support relationships, social-emotional development, and prosocial behaviors.

Authors include many voices familiar to readers at the Fred Rogers Center: Amanda Armstrong, Warren Buckleitner, Lisa Guernsey, David Kleeman, Alexis Lauricella, Michael Levine, Karen Nemeth, Brian Puerling, Michael Robb, Faith Rogow, Roberta Schomburg, Hedda Sharapan, and Alice Wilder.

As we began writing we asked a simple set of questions to guide our thinking: What do we know? What do educators need to know and be able to do? What are the best practices for teaching and learning? Why do these things matter?

But the answers we came up with, like all work with young children, are not simple at all.

“No matter how helpful computers are as tools (and of course they can be very helpful tools), they don’t begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship, which is human and mutual.” -Fred Rogers

In her chapter, “Media Literacy in Early Childhood Education: Inquiry-Based Technology Integration,” Faith Rogow provides authentic examples and practical tips on how modeling, questioning, decision-making, and integration help children develop the “habits of inquiry” and “skills of expression” needed for success in the digital age.

Cen Campbell and Carisa Kluver examine the changing role of children’s librarians, and the unique work some experts are doing to support informal learning for young children through digital tools whether they be in the library, at a children’s museum, or at a zoo. Karen Nemeth writes about how new technology can support young dual language learners. And Warren Buckleitner speculates about what child developmental theorists like Maria Montessori might have said about the iPad.

The book also builds on three guides for using technology and digital media with young children:

The authors stress several important distinctions about technology and young children, many of which we have explored on this blog, including the importance of developmentally appropriate practice; the important role of attentive, responsive caring adults; the importance of using media together; and the importance of using media to help kids engage in what they do best: explore and discover through play and hands-on activities.

As I compiled the chapters and reflected on the guiding questions, it was clear that when educators follow Fred’s lead and focus on relationships and the whole child, technology and media are effective tools to support healthy child development and early learning.

You can read more on the companion website, Tech in the Early Years at the Erikson Institute.

Photos: Courtesy of Child Learning & Development Center, Pacific University College of Education and United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education.

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