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New studies move away from stringent screen time restrictions to more flexible guidelines

screen-timeScreen time remains a hot-button issue, but classifying technology use guidelines to include active versus passive use, and how the technology is used, could help redefine traditional screen time guidelines as tech tools become increasingly integrated into early childhood education settings.

New research from RAND Corporation and PNC Grow Up Great aims to define developmentally-appropriate technology use in early childhood education by taking into account the technology and content used, the reason they used and how they are used, and how often they are used.

The researchers note that screen time guidelines were established when television was the main source of screen-based content children consumed, but that screen time is on the rise, and should perhaps be evaluated and defined in the same way as any other technology with educational potential.

(Next page: Questions and considerations relating to appropriate screen time)

RAND and PNC Grow Up Great invited educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders to a one-day forum in May 2014 to focus on five questions that can help guide educators as they strive to better integrate technology into early childhood education.

Those questions are:
1. What are the goals for technology use in early childhood education?
2. How do we define developmentally-appropriate technology use in early childhood education?
3. Once defined, how do we support developmentally-appropriate technology use through devices, software, connectivity, and other components of technology infrastructure?
4. How do we ensure that early childhood education providers are prepared to integrate technology appropriately, intentionally, and productively into early childhood education settings?
5. How can parents and other family members play a role in the use of technology in early childhood education?

As forum participants focused on those five questions and delved into the screen time debate, six important considerations emerged from those discussions:

1. Is the technology purposefully integrated to support learning?

“Developmentally-appropriate teaching practice suggests that, like any tool, technology should be used thoughtfully and intentionally to support learning and build specific skill sets,” according to the report. “Technology-based activities must be built into a larger curriculum, and it is important to evaluate both when these activities are likely to be most appropriate and when traditional activities are likely to be more effective.”

2. Is the technology use solitary, or does it occur with others?

Research notes that when technology is used collaboratively and intentionally, it can boost young students’ social skills.

3. Is the activity sedentary or mobile?

Weaving technology into active play, such as exercise-based activities or exploring new environments, can reduce some of the negative health effects associated with excessive technology use in young children, the authors note.

4. What are the content and features of the media?

Content should be engaging and interactive, and, of course, must be educational. Not all content is appropriate for early learners.

5. Are the device’s features age-appropriate?

Devices should be designed in a way that is appropriate for young users with smaller hands and fingers and developing fine motor skills.

6. What is the total screen time involved?

Excessive use isn’t recommended, but screen time limits should be revisited with educational benefits in mind.

The bottom line, according to the researchers, is that “rapid evolutions in both technology and our understanding of [screen time’s] potential benefits and harms suggest that a new, more expansive definition of appropriate use is necessary to guide and support the effective integration of technology into early childhood education settings.

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Laura Ascione

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