Saturday, August 15, 2009

Technology Literate Early Childhood Educators

Remember the old Jetson cartoons where George would call home and his image would appear on the “telephone” screen? And Elroy had a computerized homework helper? We may not be living in apartments in outer space and we certainly aren't flying around in space cars (yet), but some of that Jetson technology has become closer to realty than science fiction. These days most people and many businesses are Skyping, Tweeting, Blogging, Instant Messaging, and connecting through Facebook; these words didn’t even exist a few short years ago!

For a variety of reasons, the early childhood community has been slower to catch when it comes to technology. A recent survey of early childhood professionals by Child Care Information Exchange revealed that among child care centers, most that use technology only do so for administrative purposes such as accounting or record-keeping; and classroom use is often limited to educational software. But technology has the potential to positively impact three areas of our profession: 1) classroom practices and curriculum; and 2) communication and marketing; and 3) networking and professional development.

Not only can teachers use the web to find endless lesson plan ideas, recipes, and classroom themes, but technology can also be used in the classroom even by preschool students! We must first get away from the concept that “educational software” is the only way to use technology with our youngest students. Frankly, some of this "educational" software is nothing more than electronic dittos. Some educators use the term "edutainment" to describe things that are promoted as educational, but really are more entertainment than educational. When using educational software, we must choose carefully!

We also have to open our eyes to the fact that there are many other ways of using technology in our classrooms. Children can use photographs that they (or a teacher) have taken and create slideshows or stories. Websites such as Slideshare and Voicethread can be used to enhance literacy in the early childhood classroom. There are e-pal sites where classrooms can communicate with other classrooms across the state, across the country, or even across the world! Teachers can also scan student artwork or work samples and create electronic portfolios. Word-processing and desktop publishing software can be used with students to creates student books, classroom labels, signs, and much more! My kindergartners were able to type "Do not touch" signs, print them out, and label their block creations. They could also type and print "Wet paint" signs to put near their art projects. While traditional methods should not be abandoned, technology can be used to enhance teaching strategies that we already know are effective.

Technology also provides early childhood teachers with unique opportunities to communicate with parents. Imagine a new parent has just dropped their screaming three year old off at your child care center. Now, imagine how relieved that parent will feel if she is at work and gets an email photo with a digital picture of her smiling child playing with blocks! Sending digital pictures is a great way for child care owners and directors to connect with their families! Creating newsletters, emailing parents, publishing information online (such a menus, calendar of events, etc) are other ways technology can enhance your early childhood program! Having a good website can also help market your program. Providing information about your philosophy, themes, classroom schedules, and photographs can go a long way with potential families.

Social networking sites are new and exciting territories for early childhood educators. Networking is a part of our industry where we often thrive! I’ve been to conferences where I walk in not knowing a soul but you connect with others over your common interests in children and families. Now, you don’t have to leave those conferences with a stack of business cards that you’ve exchanged but may never really use. Instead, you can connect with these same professionals on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Groups, Ning, and other discussion groups, advocacy organizations, and professional societies.

In addition to networking with professionals, technology can help us improve our professional development. Many colleges, universities, and training agencies offer classes and/or workshop hours online. In our profession, where the last child may not leave your Center until 6:00 p.m., it is sometimes difficult to take a workshop or continue our college education. Technology can help us overcome that roadblock.

I would love to create a blog or website about how early childhood educators use technology in their programs. So please share with do YOU use technology in your preschool, childcare center, or Kindergarten program?

Early Childhood Technology Resources

Meaningful Technology Integration in Early Learning Environments

NAEYC Position Statement on Technology and Young Children

NAEYC Social Media

NAEYC Technology and Young Children Interest Forum

Technology in Early Childhood Education- Finding the Balance

Training Opportunities*

Early Childhood Courses at E-Learners (link removed at request of E-Learners)

*There are many online training opportunities. Please check your state/local regulations before taking any workshops to be sure that they meet established guidelines for continued training.


  1. This is my dream. For years I was active on the Tech and Young Children Interest Forum at NAEYC. Over time, I grew impatient because there was so little we could do to encourage technology implementation. I was also discouraged because I know the most important impact we can have is on the administrators. I am very focused finding new ways to reach program administrators to ignite new passion for using technology to achive their goals.

    One comment: I wish you had an RSS feed on your blog.

  2. You make a thoughtful case about how technology can enhance the good works of early childhood educators. I look forward to hearing more about how EC educators are connecting and sharing through technology. Thanks!

  3. I just went through your links. While I am thrilled to see a new dialog emerging, the same trends are obvious to me by scanning the sites you suggested.

    First, the focus of everyone's interest is still on using technology with children in the classroom. Because so many new teachers are young enough to be completely immersed in technology and enthusiastic enough to find creative uses in the classroom, there is a lot of potential for classroom implementation IF their administrators "get it," and wholeheartedly support and are able to supervise and guide teachers' use of technology as outlined by the NAEYC guidelines. But that is a BIG "IF," because so many administrators are not technology literate. They are unable to provide guidance and supervision. They are often not supportive and generally skeptical. Another concern in regard to classroom implementation is access to the technology resources they need. Donated computers and dial up Internet access will not do it. And, finally, when it comes to classroom implementation, by and large, the state of software development in the ECE space is horrible. Most titles are not developmentally appropriate, and are generally "commercial-grade." There are some standouts, but they are few and far between.

    Next up on my list of concerns: How far behind our field is in the most basic elements of promoting ourselves online. The sites you cited in your list may have good content, but all of them except NAEYC's new site (brilliant) illustrate lack of familiarity with current web design techniques and make a poor impression on the field. They do not exactly exude credibility in technology. It's like trying to market a new course on technology by typing a flier on a typewriter. Not exactly a technique that's likely to make a good impression or be effective. And these are the people who are leading the way for the rest of our field? Come on. We can do better. It is easy and cheap to create professional looking sites these days. No one needs to code by hand anymore, and site should not be so nasty. If worse comes to worse, people can use Wordpress or Blogger. Let's look professional.

    Overall, I think the conversation needs to turn from how to encourage technology implementation in the classroom to encouraging technology literacy in the front office. We are so far behind. ECE is like a third world country in terms of using technology to manage real-life business problems. I know (and have lived) all of the obstacles for administrators. But there comes a time when we have to collectively focus on solving a major obstacle for our field. I hope the best thinkers out there will join together to zero in on training, coaching, and mentoring administrators.

  4. @VickiEhlers: Thanks Vicki. I am looking forward to exploring this topic more in the near future!

  5. @ fssimon: Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree that we need to take a top down approach to implementing technology in ECE. If directors/owners don't "buy into it" then they won't provide the teachers (who may be willing and capable) with the proper equipment or access.

    Regarding the software...I agree with you. The problem is too many of our ECE classrooms are not connected to the Internet and those that are, are probably used more for online games which really are not much different then some of the software that is on the shelves already.

    I LOVE this comment: "ECE is like a third world country in terms of using technology to manage real-life business problems." Very powerful statement!

    And finally, I add an RSS Feed :)

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  7. Technology matters in all situation!! Technology gives the better idea or technique to early childhood educators to play with kids and parents!!



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