I have been spurred into action based upon a few coinciding events and conversations.
I had a discussion recently with an early years specialist for whom I have enormous respect. The discussion arose from her asserting that she advised early educators to avoid the introduction of technologies such as computers, ipods, ipads and the like until children were the age of two.
She was keen to point out the importance of ‘real-world’ play, exploration and learning. She described the urgent need for youngsters to learn through handling artefacts and objects, getting their hands dirty and getting outside. She was almost apologetic when she started putting her case to me (I’ve come across this before). I think that sometimes people think that because I am an advocate for technology that somehow any argument put forward for other routes to learning will be met with my disapproval or condemnation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe in youngsters having as rich an experience of the world as it is possible to provide. This experience must reflect the way the world is. It must include opportunities to explore the full gamut.
Regarding this, there is a problem, well two problems really. Firstly, there is a problem of imbalance and secondly a problem with a failure to ask two important questions ‘So what?’ and ‘Where’s the learning?’
Let’s look first at balance. If a child’s only creative experiences were in the use of paint, they would be missing out on some pretty essential and significant other experiences such as clay, play-dough, coloured pens, pencils, crayons etc. This imbalance would be wrong and would need addressing. Would we ‘blame’ paint for this? Would we suggest that the appropriate age for the introduction of paint should be 2 years old? If there is an overuse of technology in a child’s early experience that is to the detriment of the child’s whole development, does it follow that the technology is bad or that its introduction should be delayed? I would argue not and that to delay its introduction would be equally damaging (in terms of imbalance). There may be some research or scientific evidence to suggest that infants and babies being exposed to technologies such as computers and ipads is detrimental to their eyesight and/or health – I would be very interested to see examples of such research if anyone can point me towards it. (UPDATE: Since publishing, I have been directed to this article – My response is that most of the arguments used against screens could apply equally to books and would we really argue that infants should be deprived of books until the age of 2? ).
Interestingly, the following video clip was cited as exemplifying the problem of introducing technology too early.
To me, it exemplifies the importance of providing a rich balance of experiences. I would extend this to the over exposure to plastic, wood, primary colours and so on. I’ll say it again – Rich. Balance.
I would also add that it also highlights the importance of cooperative/collaborative engagement with technology (whether that technology is a book, magazine or an ipad). By this I refer to the power of an adult sitting down with a youngster and engaging with them and the technology together. Technology should never be a baby-sitter. See here:
This leads me to the second problem and this is linked to the seduction by ‘machines that go ping’ (more on this here on Pete Yeoman’s blog and here on Mark Gleeson’s ). For too many, technology in various forms is seen as a magic bullet. Let’s sit the baby or toddler in front of the TV, computer, ipad (whatever) cos they’ll inevitable learn loads by osmosis. Let’s buy a shedload of shiny stuff cos it’ll impress people and just look at how engaged the kids are! Let’s get some games consoles in class cos it’ll make learning fun. Please people, constantly ask yourselves these two questions: “Where’s the learning?” and “So what?”
The problem does not lie with the technology. It is in its use. It is not the tool… (heard that somewhere before?).