Educators as digital technology advisors

Children today are surrounded from birth by an ever-expanding range of digital technologies, yet there are few reliable sources of guidance for parents or educators on how to navigate this new digital world in the best interests of children. Could early childhood educators fulfil this role?

Early Childhood Australia’s (ECA) new Statement on young children and digital technologies says yes! Read on to find out how.

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The ECA Statement on young children and digital technologies proposes that early childhood educators are uniquely placed ‘to make informed decisions [about the use of digital technology] that are in the best interests of young children … [based on their] professional knowledge about how young children play, learn and develop’ (p. 20). They can work in partnership with families to model good use of digital technology.

The Statement itself provides the ideal entry point for educators to navigate how technologies can be used to support children’s development, and how to manage the risks.

It was developed by ECA in consultation with an expert working group in response to an identified need for guidance for early childhood professionals on the role and optimal use of digital technologies with, by and for young children in early childhood education and care settings.

It provides an evidence base for educator decision making regarding ‘digital technologies that are relevant and sensitive to the digital contexts experienced by children and their families’ (p. 4).  It is not about providing ‘one-size-fits-all’ advice, or ‘cookie-cutter’ approaches, but recognises that early childhood educators ‘are skilled in working in partnership with children and families in the best interests of the child’ (p. 4).

The Statement gives an overview of existing research about young children and digital technologies in four key areas:

  • Relationships
  • Health and well-being
  • Citizenship
  • Play and pedagogy

Here is a selection of practice advice from two of the sections:

Relationships

Children develop relationship and communication skills from person-to-person direct engagement. They pick up cues from adults and others so it’s important for adults to realise that children will mimic their use of technology.

  • Encourage parents and caregivers to model self-regulation—be aware of becoming distracted by smartphones or tablets when with children. Use walks and meal times as opportunities to have conversations that build language and social skills (listen to, respond, pay attention to each other).
  • Create opportunities for collaboration—for example, invite two or more children to use a digital microscope to examine natural materials found outside. Share what they have observed on a large display screen with their peers. 

Health and wellbeing

Young children in digital contexts interact with and experience digital technologies in ways that have implications for their health and well-being. This includes their physical activity, posture, vision, sleep and emotions.

  • Provide digital technology experiences for young children that promote movement opportunities, such as:
    • play with digital robots or virtual game devices that require whole-body movement—for example, a dance-step game on an electronic mat
    • use screen-based devices to research an action task—for example, a video tutorial on how to plant a vegie garden.
  • Ensure children participate in both digital and non-digital activities to build strength and skills in their hands and fingers.
  • Ensure that screen-based digital technology use while sitting is only for short periods, and does not replace active periods of physical movement.
  • Support families to understand that exposure to arousing content and screens in the hour before sleep time decreases the length and quality of children’s sleep
  • Promote screen-free sleeping areas and the use of non-screen-based calming activities before nap and bedtimes.

What you can do