The young children of today are part of the first generation who will not know what life was like without multiple computers and smartphones at home; who won’t recognize a corded phone, don’t know what a CD is, and will never experience printing (or writing!) out step-by-step driving directions before leaving on a trip.

Technology is changing all of our lives. Our children will not perceive it as change however, just as the standard they’ve always known. While we can’t imagine what the innovations of their adulthood will look like, we can examine how we use technology and interactive media to better serve their childhood years now.

Technology as a Tool

Many of the studies that question the impact technology has on children center around its entertainment uses, particularly television. Yet digital photos, records, tapes, DVDs, and headphones are current technological tools in use by educators everywhere. Mobile devices, laptops, and tablets, are just the most recent iteration. Taking into account concerns about child development and health issues, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) noted that not all screens are created equal, and that while the appeal of technology can lead to inappropriate uses in early childhood settings, there’s more to the story. In a 2012 position statement, NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center determined, “Technology and interactive media are tools that can promote effective learning and development when they are used intentionally by early childhood educators, within the framework of developmentally appropriate practice (NAEYC 2009a).” With careful emphasis on the safety of the children, they opened the discussion to possibilities rather than focusing solely on potential negative effects.

Chip Donohue, Dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education at the Erikson Institute in Chicago, recently launched the school’s Technology in Early Childhood Center (TEC Center). Regarding the place of technology in education, he says, “Teacher education programs have to help future teachers be digitally literate and comfortable enough with the intersection of technology and child development to know how to be appropriate, what’s effective, how much is too much, and what to avoid.” If teachers and parents are going to utilize technological tools effectively, we need to know even more about them.

Seeing the Benefits

For how little time modern technology has been an active part of childhood education, we already see its impact by enhancing the way we learn, from preschool through to college. Educators in primary school and beyond will continue to leverage technology to close achievement gaps and give students a needed boost. As they do, hopefully they will continue to share findings of the technologies we employ.

“When given access to appropriate technology used in thoughtful ways, all students—regardless of their respective backgrounds—can make substantial gains in learning and technological readiness,” said Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, the faculty director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).

In the same report, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, confirms that “strong gains in achievement occur by pairing technology with classroom teachers who provide real-time support and encouragement to underserved students,” rather than replacing teachers with technology. Technology is the tool, not the teacher. Children will always benefit from strong mentorships and teaching relationships, whether it is from parents, friends or educators.

One step at a time, technology has enabled boosts in education that we couldn’t have dreamt up 20 years ago. Global learning, better simulations, improved probes and sensors, more efficient assessments, and epistemic games all contribute to make learning more fun and effective for kids of all ages. It will be exciting to see what this next, brilliant generation can come up with given the big head start we can provide with technology.

To learn more about the intersection of children, education and technology, check out the KazuTime Resource page here.