As many educators and parents have observed, today’s children are exposed to advanced technology at an early age, with tablets, e-readers, and smartphones being some prevalent choices (Gutnik et al. 2011; Rideout 2011). Experiences with technology can pave the way for unprecedented learning opportunities. However, without an education component, technology cannot reach its full potential for supporting children’s learning and development. In early childhood programs, the education component often means adults being nearby, interacting with children and providing opportunities for peer-to-peer learning to encourage children to gain the skills they need for succeeding in school.While the literature establishes the use of educational technology and positive outcomes for children (see reviews by Glaubke 2007; McCarrick & Li 2007; Penuel et al. 2009), it also indicates that technology needs to (1) be developmentally appropriate for children, (2) include tools to help teachers implement the technology successfully, and (3) be integrated into the classroom and curriculum (see Clements & Sarama 2003; Glaubke 2007; NAEYC & Fred Rogers Center 2012). In this article, we will discuss these criteria and provide a practical plan, examples, and a tool for evaluating, using, and integrating educational technology in early childhood programs.
The potential for early childhood education
Research shows that computer use supports and
increases young children’s skills in the social, cognitive,
language, literacy, writing, and mathematics realms. Children in early childhood classrooms interact with peers
when using computers. They share and help one another,
ask for and provide information and explanations, and
collaborate to solve problems (Heft & Swaminathan 2002;
Wang & Ching 2003). Adult guidance for children using
computers is associated with increases in abstract reasoning, planning behavior, visual-motor coordination, and
visual memory (Primavera, Wiederlight, & DiGiacomo 2001;
Nir-Gal & Klein 2004). For example, teachers can help children focus on tasks by telling them to look carefully at an action on the screen and observe what is happening, or by asking them what they need to do in a particular situation presented while using a software program.When teachers support children and mediarich content is integrated with the curriculum, technology experiences are associated with better language and literacy outcomes, such as letter recognition, sequencing, and sounds; listening and comprehension;vocabulary; and understanding concepts about stories and print (Primavera,Wiederlight, & DiGiacomo 2001; Nir-Gal & Klein 2004; Penuel et al. 2009). For instance, children who had daily access to a large library of educational software and teacher supervision made gains, but those with a weekly session with a mentor who facilitated use of the technology made even greater gains (Primavera, Wiederlight, & DiGiacomo 2001). When children use computers with adult support, their math concepts increase for number recognition, counting, shape recognition and composition, and sorting (Primavera, Wiederlight, & DiGiacomo 2001; Clements & Sarama 2007).The research on newer technologies and applications has yet to catch up with their availability to children, but there are promising indications. Researchers observe greater collaboration among preschoolers when they use interactive whiteboards (IWBs) than when they use traditional desktop computers (nontouch screen, with mouse and keyboard) (Wood 2001). McManis, Gunnewig, and McManis (2010) found gains in preschoolers’ literacy and math skills in classrooms using an IWB preloaded with school-readiness activities. Usability studies with the newest technologies, particularly mobile ones such as tablets, find that preschool children learn to use the devices quickly, independently, and confidently and explore freely (Couse & Chen 2010; Michael Cohen Group & USDOE 2011). Findings related to outcomes for learning from educational content on mobile devices are beginning to come in. A study with iPod touch devices and PBS-created content for children ages 3 to 7 found that the children made gains in vocabulary and phonological awareness, with children ages 3 to 5 making the most gains (Chiong & Shuler 2010). A recent study of kindergartners.