How many teachers would put a new toy in the classroom without telling the children how to use it? None. Why? Because, when left to their own ideas, children will use the toy in whatever way they see fit. Usually, they’ll mimic behaviors they have seen other people do.
For example, when children see a long, thin block, they may use it as a sword. They start swinging the block around. Immediate fear overwhelms the classroom teacher. Somebody is going to get knocked upside the head! The teacher will jump in, share why swinging around the block is not safe, and then teach/demonstrate preferred ways to use the block.
This is good. This is teaching. So why don’t we do the same thing when it comes to technology and preschool children? More often than not, it’s because there is a belief that children will not develop social/emotional skills or have bad impulse control. This is true. If you give a child a cell phone, for example, they’ll use to play games or watch videos. I’ve seen many children on public transit and restaurants and they are glued to a cell phone or tablet. Children will do the same thing in the classroom.
But there is a problem here: teachers will jump in and stop a child from using a block to swing around. Why don’t teachers jump in a stop a child from using a cell phone to play video games?
Maybe this is why: because teacher have preferred behaviors for the block and not for the cell phone.
What if I told you that I use my cell phone with the students? Gasp! Blasphemy! You may think that this is happening:
- Children are playing games on my phone.
- I’m letting them watch a cartoon (and then I walk away).
- Posting selfies on Instagram.
- They’re talking to Teacher Siri.
None of these are true. This is how I’m using my cell phone with students:
- Listen to lions roar and dogs bark (scaffolded approach for phonemic awareness).
- When a child asks “What’s an umbrella bird?” I use Google search to bring up a picture. (Then continue art project).
- I have preschool songs on my phone and they are available anytime, anywhere (Field Trips!).
- I’ve used the flashlight feature to make shadow puppets. (Then we begin our theater play).
Here’s the formula: Use technology (then extend/continue learning)
Most smart phones can pull up any picture in the history of mankind, there is a camera that can be used for documentation, and children can speak to anyone in the world. I don’t think about my cell phone just for talking/texting; I think of it as a tool. A tool to EXTEND children’s play and ideas. And, if you understand a tool – or block, toy, or device – then you can better implement them in your class. If you don’t understand a cell phone – or technology – then you’ll look around and see how every other child is using it…
… to play games…
… to watch videos…
… for social media….
…why? Because that’s what small children see their parents, older siblings and other adults do every day. Probably even you? Then your fears about social-emotional and impulse control will come true.
Don’t let children get knocked upside the head by technology. Teachers need to jump to keep students from swinging around technology in non-preferred ways. Technology is a part of our world; and we teach children about the world. Preschool teachers are in a prime position to teach children – and parents – developmentally appropriate ways to use technology.