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Director:  Maryanne McLeod, BA, MAEd
Elementary School Teacher, 2004-2018
Surrey, BC Public School System, Canada
March 2019


The following is a review for educators of a joint position statement adopted in January 2012 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College.  This review focusses especially on how computers should be used to enhance Kindergarten and Elementary School Education.

There have been studies showing the negative effects of computers in early school education. These have correctly identified passive modes of computer education where students just watching videos or animation passively like watching TV at home. That form of passive computer interaction contributes to obesity, lack of social skills and other asocial behavior. Even worse software sometimes introduces videos and games showing violence and abuse such as war games, and martial arts with the worst case being UFC, eg ultimate fighting championships

This study emphasizes from a NAEYC study the positive facilitative ways in which computers can be used to enhance education for young children from pre-kindergarten (pre-K) through elementary school. The most positive effects come from interactive programs where students solve problems and simultaneously interact with the computer, with other students, and with teachers.

Just as television was an early technology in our homes the last century, so are computers and videos the next generation of that technology. This issue of computers in education is important because we live in a digital age in which vast amounts of information flows to persons of all ages.

The positive effects of computer use are that it extends the potential for children’s learning and development far beyond traditional teaching. Part of the positive effects of computer use is in supporting the relationship of young children with both adults and others their age.

For the last 50 years, we have learned through traditional practice how young children:  Grow, Learn    Play and    Develop.
The best use of computers in education should enhance each one of these key aspects of maturing.

Recent research has shown that the best computer technology in schools is interactive media. In the words of the report, the most positive use of computers is defined as follows:

“Interactive media refers to digital and analog materials, including software programs, applications, broadcast and streaming media, some children’s television programming, e-books, the Internet and other forms of content designed to facilitate active and creative use by children and to encourage social engagement with other children and adults” 

The report defines digital devices as follows:

“Computers, tablets, multitouch screens, interactive whiteboards, mobile devices, cameras, DVD and music players, audio recorders, electronic toys, games, e-book readers, and older analog devices such as tape recorders, VCRs, VHS tapes and cassette players, light tables projectors, and microscopes.” 

It is foolish to attempt to fight the use of computers in education since computers and interactive media have been around several decades and will never go away. Young children best integrate with the world when they become comfortable with digital devices that are the dominant tools of our age.

Society is changing so rapidly that technology is increasingly disruptive in social life. This is as dramatic a change as the historical movement from oral language to print literacy. Following that of the printing press that led to the explosion of books.

Just as people who could not read were left behind historically by the explosion of published books, so it is today for children. The technological changes today mean that all citizens must develop digital literacy, otherwise, they cannot compete in our high-tech society. The NAEYC study defines digital literacy to encompass “both technology and media literacy.” p. 2

The study emphasizes that exposing students early to “technology handling” is parallel to the “book handling” skills associated with learning two centuries ago as well as early literacy development today (National Institute for Literacy 2008). In fact, the International Society for Technology in Education (2007) recommends that students should develop basic skills in technology and concepts by the age of five.

The best use of computers in early education sites the creative learning advantages of high-quality interactive media. That works especially well when combined with good teaching and complementary curriculum resources. Well used, this interactivity and complimentary curriculum formation can accelerate learning and narrow the achievement gaps for children from low- income families compared to more affluent students.

Studies have shown that the most successful effects of computers for young children come from their use by smart teachers to match the use of computers with:

1. level of each child’s development
2. individual student’s interests
3. individual student’s readiness and
4. social context of the student.

Selecting the right software and computer medium is like choosing any other learning material used in classrooms. The ultimate criteria for technology selection boils down to a simple criterion: what promotes the most positive outcomes for each child (NAEYC, 2009)

One of the most important considerations in the selection of technology and interactive media and materials and software is the cost. Technology which is too expensive will reduce its usage and impact especially lower income neighborhoods and schools. Thus there are hard trade-offs that educators must face in balancing limited resources. Costs can be complicated because of the balancing of upfront costs and then ongoing costs of updating and upgrading hardware and software. The big danger here is that schools may select technology that is cheap upfront but with hidden ongoing costs especially in upgrading and updating both hardware and software.

Another consideration of the cost side is the durability of hardware because it can be battered around and damaged easily in classroom environments. This is especially true for children who are using the hardware themselves.

One difficulty in the use of technology of all costs is that they should be chosen for effectiveness as well as costs and driven by advertising and commercial pressure from vendors. This is especially true for technologies that has vast promise but based on inflated claims by vendors. Here is important to consider technology consultants whose interest is for the school clients and not for the technology vendors.

The positive use of school-age children who are already technology proficient is that they can learn how better to communicate ideas and express feelings through technology. Many of them are already proficient at gathering information through online sites such as Google. Early elementary school students need to be trained how to locate such information more efficiently.

Another major positive interaction between computers and elementary school education is teaching students how to accomplish tasks: this would include making a picture, acting out a story, taking a photograph or writing an essay.

Along these lines, the NAEYC study states following important summary point:

“Effective uses of technology and media are active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering; giving the child control; providing adaptive scaffolds to ease the accomplishment of tasks; and using it as one of many options to support children’s learning.”

In my experience, some of the most important lessons for children in kindergarten and in the early grades is to learn to take turns and to accept the needs of others. Failure to do this makes children demanding and unsociable. Students expand the limits of their own ego needs when playing and having a good time with fellow students. Getting the attention off of themselves comes when they are working with other students in problem solving, creating and exploring. As children mature, they are able to investigate ideas and actually help their fellow students to learn. Learning from one another is a very important early grade skill

Along these lines, the study suggests it’s very important to connect on-screen and off screen activities as co-participation with their fellow students as well as with adults. Students that isolate themselves on their computer screens lose these important shared experiences with others. This is why teachers read books in class and other joint activities between teacher and students because it involves co-viewing and co-media engagement. It is important that computers integrate into early grades and complement rather than replaces these joint interactions between teachers and students and between students.

Because socialization is so important, technology needs to provide the same learning experiences provided with books, play materials blocks, art and other manipulatives. The use of technology to help children save pictures, stories, and other classroom activities to share with their families becomes an integrative part of socialization.

Computer use is should be more than fun and enhance the self-regulation of emotions, and expand problem-solving skills. The latter are particularly easy to quantify using computer technology. In this area qualification is quite easy on computers in solving math problems, situational problems and vocabulary development.

Some computer approaches to early elementary school education place insufficient emphasis on pre-computer training such as pretend play, outdoor activities and active play inside the classroom.

The best way to facilitate socialization with computers comes from interactive games or collaborative play in which students play against each other or against their teachers or family members. Similarly, digital games can be made more elaborate than simple board games because the computer can generate self-correcting learning.

One of the most powerful positive effects of technology is that teachers can make stronger the connections between school and home. Computer technology greatly reduces the cost of interacting almost cautiously with parents and family. Educators emphasize how important continuous ongoing communication is between faculty, parents and student performance. Giving parents the opportunity to communicate directly back and forth with teachers electronically helps them keep up with what children need from school from the parents point of view.

This is one of the little recognized benefits of technology in the classroom: that is to say the ability for home and school to build much stronger relationships and reduce communication costs using online resources.

The report summarizes well this bonding of home school communication:

“Likewise, parents and families can use technology to ask questions, seek advice, share information about their child, feel more engaged in the academic program and their child’s experiences there.
Technology tools such as smart phones, mobile devices, and haps offer new and more affordable ways for busy family members to communicate, connect to the Internet, and access information and social media tools to stay in touch with their families and their child’s teachers and caregivers. Internet-based communication tools offer new opportunities for video calling and conferencing when face-to-face meetings are not possible; the same technology tools can connect children to other family members who live at a distance.” 

In my own experience, I found this particularly important for young children with divorced parents or where one parent lives at distance from the caregiving parent. Computer technology can allow communication from the school to both parents no matter their distance and the parents can communicate with the school through software or social media.

Another such example I’ve encountered is one or more parents working overseas and having a child’s grandparent or grandparents raising the child. Technology overcomes the distance factor so that parents away can see videos of their child working playing and review a child’s artwork online.

An important aspect of child development is having there were praised and complemented. Computer technologies allow parents and grandparents and others to view a child’s accomplishments in ways that are not possible in face-to-face communications because of distance and working parents’ time constraints.

It was particularly rewarding in my experience when children were able to take a picture of something or upload their artwork and share it with doting parents and grandparents. Rewarding information can be sent to the parents about their children at school, so the mystery of what happens at school is reduced.

School – parent communication is important for children with emotional problems who report to their parents things that never happened at school. Children who are particularly difficult at school sometimes report they are being mistreated by teachers or the principal when in fact they are simply being disciplined. Videos of children being disruptive at school sent to parents home can have a positive effect on student’s behavior.

Young children are visual and love to draw. This expression should be enhanced by computers and software. For example the traditional practice of teaching was with paints, crayons and markers. Computer versions of these art activities should be emphasized using touchscreen art, for example. The advantage of computer artwork is that it survives the classroom and work done on paper which is typically lost, not kept taken home or becomes a storage problem. A students art however survives electronically and can be retained almost costlessly given gigabytes and even terabytes today of storage capacity.

Another important value of computer-assisted education is how it provides inclusive practices allowing children with disabilities to participate more fully.

Computer-assisted education is also valuable for dual language learners. For example students can both learn English and stay in touch with their parents native language. This is particular important for English as a second language classes.

Here computer technology can greatly facilitate the learning of a second language that is easier than the current method. The report emphasizes that both single language and dual language students need the four domains of literacy: speaking, listening, writing, and reading.

The use of computers for students learning a second language is important for the self-esteem and social skills. Students feel inadequate learning a language already known by their classmates. It is empowering for ESL (English as a second language) students to communicate with family members in their home country using the language they grew up with from home. For example, the many labels that are put on books and games and pictures on the wall can be done in both languages with computers.

A problem for educators is picking the technologies to be used in the classroom. Along these lines, the four Horsemen of Technology Choice boils down to:

1. Selection;
2. Analysis;
3. Use; and
4. Evaluation of the technology
In the choice of technology, here are the recommendations that I feel are most important from the study. These are the goals of incorporating technology well into the curriculum. Technologies and software need to:

1. Align the use of technology and media with the curriculum goals;
2. Take a childcentered and play oriented approach;
3. Facilitate hands-on exploration by children; and
4. Facilitate meaningful relationship building.
The last three of these goals were achieved in the very best schools in which I have taught. When children go from home to kindergarten and beyond, there is a transition from the warmth of home to the wide wide world.

The early grades are the most important for confidence building and emotional development. I would hug many of my teary-eyed kindergarten students in their first months at school so they would feel safe. Most suffered separation anxiety. The confidence was built as students learned they were in a safe place and with someone who cared for them. Emotional security is more important than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The early grades are the halfway house between home to the universe. Computer-assisted learning can I replace warmth of the human heart.