How to Use Technology to Help Preschoolers Learn

Three Parts:Introducing TechnologyTeaching with TechnologyUsing Technology Responsibly

If you’ve spent much time around small children, you’ve probably noticed how quickly they tend to grasp new technology, especially with interactive elements like touchscreens. For most of us, it is no longer a question of whether preschool-age children should be exposed to technology — smartphones, tablets, computers, and screens and devices of every shape and size are simply a fact of everyday life.[1] Rather, the question is how to use technology to help preschoolers learn. In the end, the use of technology with preschoolers is much like choosing other things (like food) for them — its value depends upon what you choose (and how much) and how it is integrated into other positive activities.[2]

Part 1
Introducing Technology

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    Do your homework. Yes, it is entirely possible that your preschooler will figure out the basics of a new tablet faster than you — swiping a touchscreen seems to be a natural, intuitive process for children unhampered by years of experience with ever-changing forms of technology.[3] That, however, does not excuse you from doing your due diligence to research and understand a product, game, or app before placing it in a preschooler’s hands.
    • Research and examine devices to ensure that they are appropriate and easy-to-use for young children. Work through apps and games to consider their educational content — just because they claim to be educational doesn’t mean they aren’t just essentially covert advertising, for instance. Consider whether they provide an interactive experience and how they provide feedback to the learner.[4]
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    Introduce technology as an interactive experience. Every parent of small children knows it — tablets, TVs, smartphones, and other tech can make appealing “babysitters” when you need to get something done (or just need a little break). To draw out the educational benefits of technology, however, it is best to create an interactive experience that involves you, the child, and the tech.[5][6]
    • Examine the new device, game, etc. with the child. Collaborate to figure out how it works, asking questions and giving advice. After the brief introduction, let the child be the main “explorer,” but remain engaged and interested in the tech and what the child has learned about or from it.
    • Remember, technology can be a tool of isolation, or something that brings people together. Learning is more likely to occur in the second scenario.
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    Seek out products, apps, and games that promote active learning. Years of cognitive research have demonstrated that learning occurs most effectively in an active setting. This exists when you have: active engagement; group participation; frequent interaction and feedback; and connections to real world contexts.[7] Even an individually-based product, game, or app can fulfill many of the requirements for active learning.
    • Some educational programs are little more than glorified repositories of quizzes, Q & A, or other more passive forms of instruction. Seek out options that will engage a child on a personal level, stimulate critical thinking skills (not just rote learning), and foster creativity (and thus a sense of ownership of the learning experience). Try things out for yourself. Think about the types of challenges, options, and feedback that are provided.[8]
    • Some 60%-80% of children are primarily visual learners, so finding games or apps that encourage problem-solving skills can be a particularly valuable resource for them.[9]

Part 2
Teaching with Technology

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    Evaluate your needs and options. Whether you are working with one or two small children at home or a dozen in a preschool class, it pays to think ahead regarding what types of technology (and how much of it) will best mesh with your overall goals and program. Thankfully, several resources exist from organizations focused on improving the use of technology in early childhood education.
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    Utilize technology in combination with hands-on learning. Much of preschool learning boils down to introducing concepts, objects, and phenomena (e.g., sharing, scissors, and springtime). Most young children respond well to a visual and tactile learning experience, which makes active tech resources a good complement to a range of other hands-on introductory learning activities.[11][12]
    • For instance, if your preschool class is learning about sunflowers, the wealth of information and images (and drawing apps) available on a tablet shared among several students can work alongside traditional cut-outs, coloring pages, preserved flower petals, seed counting, etc.[13]
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    Promote child-to-child interaction while using technology. Despite fears stretching back to the early days of desktop computers that technology decreases child socialization, studies have long indicated that technology is at least as capable of increasing personal interaction. Students of any age, including preschoolers, can and will interact by asking for help, giving instructions, confirming choices, or even disagreeing about strategies or selections.[14]
    • Introduce a new tablet or computer game to the whole class at “circle time,” for instance, and let the students collectively examine and ask about it. Create opportunities for scheduled use, sharing, or collective projects utilizing tech resources so that kids find interacting both with the technology and each other to be natural. Seek out learning platforms that support multiple players/learners or collaborative efforts. Monitor usage to ensure that all students get adequate opportunities to use the technology.[15]
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    Consider options for learners with special circumstances. Preschoolers with physical disabilities, challenges with communication or personal interaction, or a host of other unique needs or circumstances may derive particular benefit from the use of learning technology. Look into apps, games, and devices specially suited to the strengths and needs of your individual preschooler(s).[16]
    • A child with a limited physical ability to play with blocks or finger paint may be able to practice similar creative skills on a tablet, for instance.
    • Tablets can also be helpful with dual-language learners, by utilizing pictorial representations and translation apps designed for small children.

Part 3
Using Technology Responsibly

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    Don’t overdo it. Technology can definitely be a good thing when it comes to preschool education; it can also be a case of too much of a good thing. Ideally, screen-based technology in particular should be but one of several methods of instruction for small children, with active interpersonal engagement and (physical) hands-on learning retaining the primary position.[17]
    • No demonstrated benefit has been shown for exposing children under age two to screen-based technology, and the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) still recommends zero daily “screen time” for kids in this earliest age group.
    • For kids age 2-4, two 30-minute sessions of “screen time” per day, and perhaps up to two hours per day for slightly older children, is likely more than adequate.[18]
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    Set a good example. As with so many other things, children learn how to use (and not use) technology based in large part upon your example. If you are glued to your smartphone all day, including during meals, trips to the playground, etc., this is the behavior model your kids will want to emulate. Technology should be a broadly useful tool, not a crutch or even an addiction for you or your preschooler.[19][20]
    • Take time to “unplug” yourself and interact with your child. No technology can match the value of this type of learning (for either of you).
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    Use technology as one tool of many. Every child learns differently, and finding the right “mix” for each kid can take time and trial-and-error. Offering the widest array of learning methods and experiences possible is the best way to determine what works best for an individual child, as well as to ensure a well-rounded learning process.[21]
    • In the final analysis, you shouldn’t fear or avoid technology as a learning tool for preschoolers; you also shouldn’t see it as the single learning solution. Use technology with care, creativity, and supervision, and it can be one powerful means among many for helping young children learn.

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Categories: Parenting and Technology