An interesting article in the Guardian yesterday (http://bit.ly/jzFqJF) has raised the debate surrounding the use of technology in Early Years education. One nursery in Britain is providing each of its children with an Apple iPad to teach letters, numbers and to engage in interactive storytelling. Concerns are raised during the article as to the potential negative impact on development from using these new technologies.

Megan Pacey, chief executive of Early Education, makes a valuable point to this ongoing debate that I thoroughly support – that the key to the use of technology is moderation. An important  point to add is ensuring that IT supports other learning, exploration and interactions rather than just being a solitary activity. The Sensory Play Research project certainly endorses the finding that play has changed markedly in recent years, with 82% of adults feeling that play is significantly different to when they were a child, partly because of this screen-based culture.

Like it or not, technology is part of our lives and can be used to enrich play, learning and everyday life as part of a balanced range of hands-on, sensory-rich, physically active and fun games. This could include digital cameras in Early Years settings, skyping friends or family on the computer, or using as a tool for research or presenting findings. The key factor is ensuring that these technologies have a wider relevance and meaning and are used to enrich rather than replace interactions and other forms of play and learning. An example of this in practice  was my eight year old daughter, who on discovering five tiny baby mice, rushed indoors to try to research on the internet how you could tell which was male or female so she could decide which to keep!

The EYFS review places an increased emphasis upon communication, personal, social and emotional development and physical development, as opposed to numeracy and literacy. This suggests that an overemphasis upon ‘teaching literacy’ is as unhelpful as a ‘black and white’ stance on IT. Having presented at an International Autism and Aspergers Conference recently, the tangible benefits of IT to children with SEN was apparent from the many parents, grandparents and practitioners citing examples of enjoyment, greater focus and concentration. This same enjoyment and relevance is apparent from three children aged four, seven and ten inspired (unprompted) to research, create power point presentations and posters about the Great Crested Newt that they’d discovered in a pond. Technology will of course change, but this in itself is not an argument for children to avoid IT, unless you are of the opinion that childhood is simply a dress rehearsal for work. Surely what we are hoping to ignite, or perhaps more accurately not dampen, is children’s natural urge to explore and see what IT can do for them.

I’m a firm believer in the value of adult’s discovering alongside children. Not only does this mean that we don’t need to have all the answers, when it comes to technology it’s a great way of letting children take the lead. Our role is to provide the necessary balance and context to ensure that this learning, like any other is relevant and meaningful.

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