Supporting Digital Kids In The Early Learning Years

April 24, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Literacy, Out-of-School Learning, Parents and Families

This week marks the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Week of the Young Child, an annual celebration designed to focus public attention on the needs of children from birth through age 8, and to recognize the programs and services that meet those needs. NAEYC is the world’s largest early childhood education association.

This year’s theme is “Early Years Are Learning Years” and stresses the importance of children’s earliest years as a time of intense development that will undoubtedly shape their ability to succeed in school and later life.

The association recently joined the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College in releasing a comprehensive position statement on the use of interactive technology and digital media in early childhood programs. The statement discusses issues surrounding the use of emerging technologies in early childhood classrooms and provides principles to guide the appropriate use of such tools, as well as definitions for buzzwords such as “interactive media” and “digital citizenship.”

“Our world and technology are rapidly changing,” Jerlean Daniel, NAEYC executive director said in a press release. "Teachers and administrators face new choices every day about how to use interactive technologies. The position statement provides important, timely, research-based guidance to professionals as they consider if, when and how to use technologies.”

As Common Sense Media found in a study of media use among this age group, one-fourth of all screen time is spent with digital devices. Parents and educators are looking for guidance on this issue and it’s great to see such an esteemed group offer some help. In addition to their position statement, there are number of other resources to help inform decisions.

As you may have heard, the Rogers Center recently unleashed Ele, or “Early Learning Environment”, a prolific digital resource full of interactive games for children and parents to play together. Ele is the beginning of what the Rogers Center hopes will be a burgeoning community of parents, children, and educators sharing information, experiences, and tools on how to use technology at home and in the classroom.

“Healthy use of media and technology by the youngest children is possible—and more important—than ever,” says Michael Robb, director of education and research at the Rogers Center and manager of Ele. “We are seeing an explosion in the number of digital resources that can have an impact on the intellectual, social, emotional and physical development of children birth through age five.”

The Rogers Center also recently released “Advice for Parents of Young Children in the Digital Age,” (pdf), a brief article chock full of useful tips. The piece stressed four main points, suggested by Robb:

  1. Interactivity is key for young children;
  2. It’s integral to “match use with age” and be aware that children’s needs change as they develop;
  3. Fun and engagement are important aspects of children’s media; and
  4. Adults must model appropriate behavior when using technology and consistently promote digital literacy.

At Common Sense Media we have a wealth of tools designed to offer support to parents and educators in the early learning years, including reviews of apps and other media, and advice for parents. Check out our Media Tips for Babies and Toddlers, for example. We also have a free Parent Media and Technology Program, starting in kindergarten that provides guidance for parents and educators on how to safely use digital media with their kids. The program features several videos, discussion guides, tip sheets, and presentations for both parents and educators to successfully “reinforce classroom learning” with at-home activities.

The position statement and emerging support for parents reflect a growing sentiment that digital media is not going away, and we must all harness its potential in smart ways. As Rita Catalano, executive director for the Fred Rogers Center, said, “We believe that when used appropriately, technology and interactive media have tremendous potential to nurture early learning and development.”