Clayton Early Learning

From I-Phones and GPS to ABC’s: possibilities for technology and young learners.

Rebecca Soden

The power of our everyday technologies was brought home for me as I sat in a café recently watching a father play with his young son. I watched the child’s eyes as they flitted between the father’s face and the screen of the I-Phone that he was cradling carefully in his sticky toddler hands. Both were smiling, laughing and completely engaged in the exchanges between the three participants (father, son and technology).

They were playing with an alphabet software program where the child can draw on the touch screen with his finger (tracing a letter) and click the letter to hear the letter sound and see pictures of common things that start with that sound. At any point the child can simply shake the screen (like the old etch-a-sketch) to wipe away his attempt and begin anew.

I thought of my own three-year old son’s insistence that he hold my GPS navigation system from his booster seat, shouting out “left mom” and “turn right” as he peers at our car traveling real-time along the map projected on the video screen. What possibilities for new and different learning do these increasingly common technologies create for young children and how are we capitalizing on the fact that children today are natives of a digital culture?

Robyn Zevenbergen (2007) argues that for digital natives entering early childhood classrooms, their exposure to technologies is often vast and has shaped them in ways that are different from other generations. She argues that children’s exposure to virtual tools can enhance understanding, but may also create new ways of thinking. Quality use of technology within early childhood classrooms can build digital “capital” which is particularly critical for students whose home environments have not exposed them to similar technologies.

As parents and early childhood teachers, how can we use technologies in ways that maximize learning and encourage curiosity? The planning and integration of technology into a quality learning environment is a critical question that needs to be addressed in our work with young children. I would ask teachers and parents to consider the following questions as they plan activities for the children in their care:

• How do I use technology to engage children’s interest?
• How do I use technology to help children stretch beyond their current developmental level?
• How do I use technology to support social interactions and play?
• How do I use technology to support children’s discovery and inquiry?
• How do I use technology to help reinforce children’s understanding of concepts (number and letter recognition, phonological and print awareness, vocabulary)?

Please share your ideas about how you've been using technology with young learners.

Rebecca Soden

About Rebecca Soden

Rebecca Soden, Vice President for Clayton Early Learning, has 18 years of experience implementing programs for children birth to five and their families, including Early Head Start, Head Start and two multi-site Early Reading First initiatives. She provides vision and oversight to the Research, Evaluation and Professional Development services offered through Clayton. She is responsible for the creation and implementation of a continuous improvement model for using data to effectively plan and monitor early childhood programs. Her work has a special focus on supporting evidence-based programming, including caregiver-child interactions, language and literacy development, and the innovative use of technology with young children. Rebecca strives to develop communities of practice in an effort to discover what researchers and teachers can learn from each other. She serves on the Prenatal to Age 3 Subcommittee of the Colorado Early Childhood Leadership Commission. She has a Master of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and a Doctorate in Leadership for Educational Equity P-20 from the University of Colorado – Denver.
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  1. The digital culture will have an impact on our children, no doubt. But, will teachers and parents be able to keep up? How many adults can really support their children’s discovery and inquiry using technology? What type of teacher education training will be needed to support this type of instruction? It is exciting, but a little scary too.

  2. Alice, some have referred to this gap in generations as ‘digital natives’ (kids savy with technology skills) colliding with ‘digital immigrants’ (older teachers who are nervous about trying new technologies). Maybe this is a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves and live the words of John Cotton Dana, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”

  3. Rebecca, Where would a ‘digital immigrant’, like myself, who is willing, get the needed support? In my case, most of what I know about technoloy is through typing in child assessment information at work and fingering the dials on my phone. In the case of my phone, my ten-year old nephew had to load my sim card, upload my contacts, and show me how to send a text. I am sure I am not the only one. I would be interested in knowing how to become part of the virtual age.

  4. You ask a great question Alice. I like the idea of partnering with your nephew to learn about technology. Perhaps there are continuing education courses in your area or community colleges that offer formal classes. Here at Clayton Early Learning, we have a Technology Fellowship program that teachers can apply for. If accepted, they receive professional development and other technology resources in order to help them learn how to successfully integrate technology into their classrooms. This fellowship project is funded through the generosity of the Morgridge Family Foundation, a key partner in funding educational innovation.

  5. As an Early Childhood Professional I am concerned with the current pre occupation with technology in the classroom and its long term effect on young children. Technology, especially when used incorrectly, becomes a solitary task, limiting the opportunity to create relationships in the classroom. Can you offer suggestions to help educators use technology to enhance children’s social skills? In this age of instant gratification do you have any concerns with over use of technology and the amount of screen time that seems to dominate today’s child?

  6. Laura, your concern is one shared by many of us within the ECE community. Sometimes I wonder if this view is one of the reasons that our field has been slower to explore possibilities for integrating technology in a developmentally appropriate way. Technology should never replace human interaction or take the place of rich conversations. As teachers and parents, we want to look for ways that technology can go beyond the real materials that we have available or be a springboard for what we are able to offer through our personal interactions and loving relationships. The NAEYC Technology Position Statement is a good source of guidance for educators and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screen time at a maximum of one to two hours a day for young children.

  7. Many good points. I remember being worried years ago when computers were introduced in preschools.. but I watched turn-taking, sharing and lots of excitement from the kids who ordinarily would be bored by other activities. The downside—when they get to be teenagers and the technology becomes more important (along with what to wear, etc.) than anything else. Now I worry that the next generation will: wear out their fingertips, walk hunchback, and have major neck chiropractic issues on account of phones!

  8. I’m a speech therapist that specializes in assitive technology and AAC strategies with kids with special needs. A lot of what I do are great strategies for typical children as well. But I do almost all my therapy sessions thru using technology. I’m able to capture kids interest thru technology, they learn turn taking and expand their language, cognitive and social skills. There are many great programs that foster learning of those skills. But I do have to say one of my biggest struggles is getting support for school district staff. Sure school districts have a technology team but sometimes they dont even know, what they dont know.

  9. Dr. Larry Dossey has a great blog – Is Technology Making Children More Empathic? ( He refers to the 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation study finding kids 8 to 18 spending 7.5 hours a day with electronic devices – this doesn’t even count texting/cell phone talking. Dossey suggests that today’s youngsters support collaboration/connectivity over individualism/privacy (their parent’s values). The specific questions raised in your blog – focused on young learners – seem to mirror Dossey’s thinking for engaging around technology. I’m curious to know if you see the same opportunity for increasing empathy through technology – with younger children?

  10. What an interesting blog, or shall I say, what a common event to witness in today’s society. Reading your article reminded me of the things I do and have done to enhance my daughter’s learning. She has a special need and could use extra attention grabber when she must come along with mom to a boring meeting or need to sit with me in church. Before I would bring along paper, crayons, a coloring book and some books to read. I have purchased a V-Smile for her to use to learn abc’s and 123’s as well as Leap items. You would want your children to be creative and use their own imagination, but they are the ones creating some the games that are played on nitendo, playstation, Xbox and others. The present technology our children encounter is the beginning of their future; our children will create. experience and use many more technological devices and gagets that we can imagine.
    The key to getting the most and best from the technology is parents being intentional. As teachers we are trained to be intentional with our interactions with the children and parents should be the same way; yes fun and sometimes spontaneous, but having a purpose behind every interaction. Being intentional with technology we allow our children to interact with will answer many of the questions you pose.

  11. Hi Rebecca, I totally agree that Technology is growing and anda very young age. I have noticed my 3 and 4 year old students have really taken an interest in technology, whether it’s the Smart Board or lap top, camera’s etc. also I have noticed it in my own grandchildren wanting to use my home computer to play games and research activities for school and the funny thing about it is half the time I wonder how they even brought up the different sites. It is very exciting to see how children are able to use technology and benefit from it.

  12. I love the blogs posted excellent information, the leadership blog is something I can truly share with some of my staff.


  13. I have a little one who is turning 5 this month; a few weeks ago, she was teaching her grandmother (my mother in law) how to get around my Android touch phone. It was amazing to see how well my child knew how to get in to the different apps. However; my thoughts were, even though this is really amazing…. it’s also kinda scary. I feel a need to try to stay updated with the lasted tech gadgets, just to be sure I can parent/ teach the new generation of Tech babies.

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