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No Turning Back From Technology in the Classroom?

I recently visited a private school in Montgomery County, Md., that was piloting the use of iPads in kindergarten. The kids and teachers were thrilled to be using the technology for reading and writing activities, even "finger painting" without the mess of actual paint.

When I asked a 6-year-old student why she liked using the iPad, she told me it was more fun than writing with a pencil, which made her hand hurt.

That response hit a nerve as it touches on the issues surrounding the use of technology in the early-education classroom. Educators nationwide are grappling with defining what is appropriate use for the youngest learners and what the impact might be on the development of physical and academic skills.

Rae Price, host of Body, Mind and Child on the BAM! radio network, probed those issues during a conversation Friday with Kimberly Tice, the executive director of the Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children; Suzanne Gellens, the executive director of the Florida AEYC; Aaron Carrara, the president and board chairman of the Texas AEYC; and Lisa Guernsey, director of the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative.

Price led off by noting that 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 in Latrobe, Pa., earlier this year issued guidance for educators on this issue, acknowledging that digital technology is part of kids' lives already.

But, Price wondered, does it make sense to spend time teaching kids how to use devices like iPads when they may soon be obsolete?

Guernsey suggested that that's not a good use of class time. Rather, teachers should be examining "the content that could come through the technology and how that could be integrated into lessons, into activities, into the broader learning."

The educators agreed that technology shouldn't pull time or resources away from the hands-on activities and play that are so necessary for kids' development.

The bottom line? Teachers need to educate themselves on the best ways to integrate technology into the curriculum and the classroom—and to remember, as Carrara pointed out, "there's no substitute for interaction" with students.

They also should recognize that how they approach technology will serve as a model for students, Guernsey said, in "the way they talk about it, their use of it, the questions it brings to mind...All of that is something that children will be watching for and learning from."

Still, Price said she wishes that the technology genie had stayed in the bottle—and out of the early-learning classroom.

"I'd be less worried if we just kept technology out of the equation until we know a lot more about its use," she said. "No one really knows what developmentally appropriate practice is" when it comes to young children's technology use.


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