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Technology and Early Childhood: Finding the Right Balance

Parents and educators are grappling all the time with how much young children should be exposed to using technology and interactive media. How appropriate is it for 4-year-olds, for example, to be using applications—even educational ones—on iPads?

Well, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College have jointly issued a new guidance to help early educators ensure that they use digital media and technology in ways that are developmentally appropriate for children from birth through the age of 8.

At the outset, the statement acknowledges that digital technology is ubiquitous and is only likely to become even more pervasive in children's lives. It also lays out the need to measure how much "screen time" children get on a daily basis and to ensure that time spent with screens such as those on smartphones, tablets and even digital cameras are included in that measurement. It's important, the statement says, for early childhood educators not to use technology just for the sake of technology and that using screen media as a replacement for active play, engagement with other children, and interactions with adults is inappropriate.

At the same time, the guidance explains that young children need to develop "technology-handling" skills in their early-childhood settings that are associated with early "digital literacy," especially for poor children who are less likely to have access to such technologies in their homes. Those technology-handling skills are akin to the "book-handling" skills associated with early literacy development.

The guidance also includes very specific principles for early educators to apply when making decisions about how to use technology.

And though the guide is designed for early educators, it is packed with useful information for parents who have to make similar decisions about what happens with their children at home.

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