Technology and Young Children - Part 1 - Keep it Creative

15 November 2017

preschool tech creativity

During the preschool years, your little one is developing a sense of initiative and creativity. She is curious about the world around her and wants to learn more. She is exploring her ability to create and communicate using a variety of media -- art materials like crayons, manipulative materials like blocks, and her own creative movement such as singing and dancing. All of these mediums develop your child’s creative skills. And digital technologies provide one more outlet for your preschooler to demonstrate her innovation and knowledge. Here are ways to use technologies like video games, apps and other interactive digital media as a creative and empowering tool for your preschooler.

Technology must be used intentionally. Merely keeping your preschooler busy should not be the total purpose of allowing the use of technology. Computers, video games, tablet and cell phone apps are best used when they support learning and development. The most effective uses of technology and media are active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering experiences, that give your child control.

Effective technology helps your child progress at their own pace. Though it’s not always possible to be engaged with your child when she’s absorbed with a screen full of images and sounds, the greatest learning will take place when she’s interacting with you as well as the game. This means being attuned to your child’s age, their developmental level and then providing digital technology that is appropriate. For example, your child may be chronologically three years old, but still at an upper 2-year old level developmentally. It usually takes 6 months from the birthday to really be at the next age developmentally. My blog, Chronological or Developmental: Age Ain't Nothing But A Number can help you understand the difference between your child’s chronological and developmental age.

With that in mind, a good source for finding appropriate preschool technology for your child’s age is Common Sense Media, Plus, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) assigns the age and content ratings displayed on all computer and video games.  Familiarize yourself with the ESRB's game ratings here and take advantage of their rating summaries.

Technology has a place in your preschooler’s life. That place needs to be thought of much like a dessert instead of the main meal. Preschool children ages 2 to 5 years old learn best through active, physical exploration of their environment.An occasional use of digital technology, for no more than 15 minutes or even less, is appropriate with children under 5 years of age. But sitting down and working on a computer for an hour or longer periods of time each day is not appropriate to the developmental needs of your child at this age.

Technology is a trade-off. The time children spend in front of a computer is time they don’t have for physical activity and a host of other essential activities. For example, in making decisions to let your little one use a computer, you need to think about both the gains made from using the computer, such as entertainment and passive learning, and the losses, like face-to-face social skills and hands-on experiences. When watching an e-book, your preschooler loses the one-on-one sharing and connection that happens when you read a book together. Sitting together, talking about the story, asking questions, focusing on the artist’s illustrations are things that are often missing with a passive, digital book experience. My blog, Tips for Reading to your Preschooler has more easy tips for the best ways to enjoy and learn about reading with your preschooler.

So, if you choose to let your preschooler use any technology, you need to be aware of and balance their time spent between technology and growing other essential skills. Don’t forget, very young children need physical activity to encourage strong bone, muscle and joint development. Check out our Large Motor Skills activities for easy ideas to get your little one moving. Plus, developing young eyes also need to strengthen their far vision by exploring the world around them. Activities like our Focus Scopes and Chatty-do’s How many green things can you find today? and How did the sky look today? focus on growing your child’s visual acuity by discovering details in their environment.

3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Preschooler’s Digital Experiences

There is no getting around the fact that technology will be a part of your preschooler’s life. It makes sense to teach our children that technology can be used actively and not just as a time-filler or a way of avoiding boredom. While your little one is playing a digital game:

  1. Ask your young one to tell you about the game, just as you would a book or a movie. Give your child a chance to show you what he’s mastered and let him describe a game as he sees it. This is an easy and effective way to help your preschooler talk about their experience-- and how get the most out of his playtime on a device.
  2. Ask your preschooler questions about how to play the games she likes. Your questions will get your child thinking about what comes next. Ask, “What are you trying to do?” “What would you have to do to make the same thing happen again?
  3. Find out what your child understands about his screen-time and play. Ask what your preschooler has discovered about a new game or level. Because what she has accomplished is not the same as she has discovered, you may need to ask guiding questions. “What did you do that was new?” “Have you ever done that before?”

4 Video Game Qualities that Benefit Children’s Development

Don’t be tempted to buy a game just because the right age is listed on the package, or you may see the words “educational.”  Here are some things to be aware of when you buy games for your preschooler.

  1. Check to see the the game has multiple levels of difficulty. Being able to set the skill level allows your preschooler to begin in an open-ended or “explore” mode. As your little one masters the program, she can then move on to more challenging levels at her own pace.
  2. Look for games and activities that give your child opportunities to express her preferences and interests, rather than having everything preset by the software. For example, the freedom to select a color or a character at the start of a game - as well as the chance to make other choices throughout the play - will help develop your child’s independence and sense of control.
  3. As much as possible, have your child play a computer game or program with someone else, another child, or perhaps you. This gives your child a chance to talk about what she’s learning and discovering. These conversations are a great way to find out what your little one is experiencing. You may be surprised what you see your child doing during the game may be different from what she thinks she’s doing.
  4. Purchase games that are stereotype and violence free. Remember, preschool children model what they see and experience. Because of this, avoid games whose characters use violence to resolve conflict. Subtle gender and cultural bias may be embedded in some games as well. A character’s voice, for example, may connect a certain accent to a negative behavior. Read online reviews, rent games before you make any purchases, and give the game a go yourself to be sure you’re ok with the content.

Keep these points in mind to help you as you decide about the use of technology with your preschooler. Your child’s attention span is also a factor to consider when using and choosing technology.  My blog, Attention Span, It’s Short and Not Always Sweet, explains the nuts and bolts of your growing child’s concentration. Let me know-- What did you find most helpful about this blog? How do you find the balance with technology in your child’s life?

Stay tuned! Up next in my Tech and Young Children series, I’ll share eight positive and developmentally appropriate ways to balance technology time with your young children.

+ Thanks for the inspiration goes to the cell tower farm at the top of Black Mountain in California's Anza Borrego Desert State Park.