Thursday, February 14, 2013
Is Technology Integral to Toddlers Learning?
This past week’s Dispatches: How Safe Is Your Child’s Nursery that ran on Channel 4 prompted me to go check out Ofsted’s website for rating nurseries. Obviously, I went to check out the nursery my son goes to. The Ofsted website is in fact as terrible as the Dispatches report relayed. Using the reports search page with the criteria of nurseries within five miles of my post code yielded nurseries in London on the first page (I live near Manchester). But a general site search helped me find the nursery. However, the usability of the Ofsted website isn't the point of this post. Or perhaps in a way, it should be.
I went and read the report posted by Ofsted back in 2011… really, had it been two years since the nursery was last reviewed? It gave the marks that I pretty well had anticipated for the nursery that I selected for my son. When I went looking for a nursery, I wanted one that was very close to home. I wanted a Montessori style atmosphere where children are encouraged to learn by play and learning is done at the child’s pace with the child’s lead. I wanted my son to be exposed to a great variety of toys and play styles; to have social interaction with children of all ages; to have an experience with some structure not too far unlike what he will later experience in preschool. I wanted a nursery that worked in frequent partnership with parents in identifying and encouraging their individual child’s development at home. And I specifically wanted to see no televisions and a caring staff that actively and continuously engaged the children under their care. The nursery my son goes to gets high marks for all of these.
So in reading the Ofsted report, I saw a lot of praise for those virtues I found in his nursery. But then I found criticism in the areas that I didn't care for at all in my son’s early education—accessibility to technology. The report cited that there was a computer that children had access to and that many children demonstrated that they knew how to use a mouse. But then it criticized the nursery for not having cameras and mobile phones available for the children to play with.
Recently in the Wigan area, a nursery near Swinley was burgled. Some £800 cash was stolen. And the article bemoaned how the evil burglars also made off with the nursery’s Playstations, Xboxes, and Wii’s and how a fundraiser was being put together to replace this equipment. I don’t think I should have to apologize for ‘not being with it’… but really… what are Playstations, Xboxes, and Wii's doing at a preschool nursery? Had I seen those technologies at the nursery my son is enrolled in, I would have considered switching schools. We have an Xbox at home. Maybe I shouldn't send him to nursery at all.
I do realize my perspective comes from a place where I am afraid for children whose caretakers depend on gaming consoles to ‘babysit’ their kids. I can see maybe with using motion sensor technology in concert with games that encourage movement as a part of learning and problem solving… perhaps. I can even see technology being used to help preschool children who have learning difficulties or other conditions where a touchscreen is a very useful device for learning. But for your average, normal bish-bash-bang toddler, is this technology really essential to their early learning? Especially since many of these gadgets are so readily accessible at home? Even in this on-going double dip (or more) recession, families are still managing to pony up for the latest iPad.
I’m not certain that for the average toddler, exposure to the latest technology at nursery is a good thing. As demonstrated by my own toddler, he is a push button maniac. Who could blame him when the hottest kids’ toys are electronic? V-Tech, Leap Frog, Bruin, even Fisher Price offer their greatest variety of baby and toddler toys as electronic devices that instantly reward cause-and-effect oriented learning with flashing color lights and whimsical songs at the press of a button. These devices have specific and limited functions however, that doesn't leave much room for imaginative use. That is part of what concerns me.
My infant daughter has a Fisher Price bouncer with a toy bar with dangles just outside of her normal reach. The center dangle is the highest one and is attached to a music box. When my baby pulls on that dangle, she’s rewarded with a jaunty tune (Polly Wolly Doodle). My son has been looking for the button on that device for three months now and still hasn't found it. Both my husband and I have spent a great deal of time showing him how to pull the dangle to get the song that he wants to dance to.
Our son insists that there must be a button he has to push. For now to him, the world doesn't work any other way. I’d rather him have better knowledge of mechanical toys. I’d rather him understand that things work in ways other than by the press of a button. And I’d rather him have the opportunity to use his imagination more—he seems to be doing pretty well at this with stuffed animals and toy figures.
But back to the subject at hand—is having the latest technology really that useful to nursery school learning? Maybe I have it all wrong? Maybe there are activities and games I don’t have knowledge of that warrant the use of a digital camera by a two year old? Maybe Ofsted has to use the same criteria to rate its nursery schools as it does its secondary schools? Am I missing something here?
Have your say!