Aug. 12, 2019
A plethora of digital media—from gaming apps to YouTube videos—have become a big part of early childhood in the 21st century. For educators and parents, this reality can be alternately harrowing and exciting, not to mention, overwhelming. A new book of essays by researchers, pediatricians, and education leaders helps to make sense of these new trends and offers a truckload of helpful resources and recommendations.
The book, Exploring Key Issues in Early Childhood and Technology: Evolving Perspectives and Innovative Approaches, was edited by Chip Donohue, founding director of the Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center at Erikson Institute in Chicago. Essays cover a range of topics as wide and textured as the worlds of childhood and digital media themselves, from the role of maker spaces in early learning ecosystems to the importance of child-centered design to the rights of young children in digital environments.
I contributed one of the essays: “A Mission for Media Mentors: Creating Critical Thinkers.” I wrote it to shine a light on the role of early media literacy and the need to set the foundation for building critical-thinking skills so that children can become savvy consumers and creators in this media-driven world. It focuses on how to ensure that children’s and school librarians and early educators (and other adults who intersect with parents and children) can gain the skills they need. It also highlights resources and techniques to help librarians and educators build child-centered environments, such as the Principles of Ideal Learning Programs, published by Trust for Learning last year. These principles of quality early childhood programs, which range from making decisions with a commitment to equity to the recognition that "children construct knowledge from diverse experiences to make meaning of the world," should be considered in any use of digital media with young children.
The chapter starts with a story, first described in Technology and Critical Literacy in Early Childhood, a 2013 book by Vivian Maria Vasquez and Carol Branigan Felderman. It provides a model for how to develop critical-thinking activities with young children.
A key figure in my essay is a media mentor—an adult with the training and mindset to support young children’s use of information and who knows how to use digital media to help children find new ways of investigating their own questions. Instead of getting distracted on trainings about how to make sure children click on the right buttons, or fixating on whether the kids are watching videos for more than their allotted minutes, this adult puts children’s needs, questions, and intelligence at the center of the experience.
Here is how the essay starts:
One day not too long ago, in a small kindergarten classroom in Washington, D.C., a group of children decided to plant tomatoes. To get started, they turned to one of the parents who was assisting in the class that day. Little did they know that the mother they asked, Vivian Maria Vasquez, was an international expert on inquiry-based learning. She did not give them the answer. Instead, she took the group—which included her son, T.J.—on an odyssey that started with searches through books and on the Internet. Their searching led them to discover that tomato plants could be grown all kinds of ways. They could plant seeds directly into the ground, they could transplant small seedlings from containers into the ground, and they could even buy a device advertised on television called the Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter, which involved growing tomato plants upside down.
T.J. and his classmates found that last fact to be most fascinating. Can plants really grow upside down? They found a YouTube video of the television commercial and listened closely to its claims. The video showed a man digging in the ground to plant tomatoes the traditional way and holding his back in pain. The voice-over talked about “back-breaking work.” The next image showed a smiling woman using the Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter while not even breaking a sweat.
The children had even more questions now. What is back-breaking work? Why is a man the one doing the shoveling? Would it be better to use this Topsy Turvy device than to plant seeds in the ground? Would it work?...