Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Over the course of the next several days, I’ll be writing about technology and young children. First up is a look at the newly released position statement – “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8” – from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College.

The statement takes a balanced approach that focuses on the uses of technology rather than technology in and of itself. “With guidance, these various technology tools can be harnessed for learning and development; without guidance, usage can be inappropriate and/or interfere with learning and development,” the statement says. “The impact of technology is mediated by teachers’ use of the same developmentally appropriate principles and practices that guide the use of print materials and all other learning tools and content for young children.”

Among the conclusions of NAEYC and the Rogers Center are these:

The statement, more than two years in the making, is NAEYC’s first position on the subject of technology in early education settings since 1996. Back then, as Early EdWatch notes, “the Web was only a few years old, portable music meant the Sony Walkman, and Einstein was still that physics genius with the mustache, not a line of DVDs for babies.”

Now, of course, we live in an era of apps and tablets, smart phones and handheld games, touch screens and scanners, digital cameras and video recorders. “As digital technology has expanded in scope beyond linear, non-interactive media to include interactive options, it is evident that each unique screen demands its own criteria for best usage,” the new statement notes. “The challenge for early childhood educators is to make informed choices that maximize learning opportunities for children while managing screen time and mediating the potential for misuse and overuse of screen media, even as these devices offer new interfaces that increase their appeal and use to young children.”

A companion piece offers examples of effective practice for children of various ages.

For all age groups, the statement notes, technology can be a powerful tool to help children with special needs.

Early learning programs also provide important opportunities to mitigate the effects of the digital divide. “Young children,” the position paper notes, “need opportunities to develop the early ‘technology-handling’ skills associated with early digital literacy that are akin to the ‘book-handling’ skills associated with early literacy development.”