Technology and Young Children -- Ages 3 through 8
In this position statement, we use the word technology to refer primarily to
computer technology, but this can be extended to include related technologies,
such as telecommunications and multimedia, which are becoming integrated with
Technology plays a significant role in all aspects of American life today,
and this role will only increase in the future. The potential benefits of
technology for young children's learning and development are well documented
(Wright & Shade 1994). As technology becomes easier to use and early
childhood software proliferates, young children's use of technology becomes more
widespread. Therefore, early childhood educators have a responsibility to
critically examine the impact of technology on children and be prepared to use
technology to benefit children.
Market researchers tracking software trends have identified that the largest
software growth recently has been in new titles and companies serving the
early childhood educational market. Of the people who own home computers and
have young children, 70% have purchased educational software for their
children to use (SPA Consumer Market Report 1996). While many new titles are
good contributions to the field, an even larger number are not (Haugland &
Early childhood educators must take responsibility to influence events that
are transforming the daily lives of children and families. This statement
addresses several issues related to technology's use with young children: (1)
the essential role of the teacher in evaluating appropriate uses of technology;
(2) the potential benefits of appropriate use of technology in early childhood
programs; (3) the integration of technology into the typical learning
environment; (4) equitable access to technology, including children with special
needs; (5) stereotyping and violence in software; (6) the role of teachers
and parents as advocates; and (7) the implications of technology for
Although now there is considerable research that points to the positive
effects of technology on children's learning and development (Clements 1994),
the research indicates that, in practice, computers supplement and do not
replace highly valued early childhood activities and materials, such as art,
blocks, sand, water, books, exploration with writing materials, and dramatic
play. Research indicates that computers can be used in developmentally
appropriate ways beneficial to children and also can be misused, just as any
tool can (Shade & Watson 1990). Developmentally appropriate software offers
opportunities for collaborative play, learning, and creation. Educators must
use professional judgment in evaluating and using this learning tool
appropriately, applying the same criteria they would to any other learning
tool or experience. They must also weigh the costs of technology with the
costs of other learning materials and program resources to arrive at an
appropriate balance for their classrooms.
- In evaluating the appropriate use of technology, NAEYC applies
principles of developmentally appropriate practice (Bredekamp 1987) and
appropriate curriculum and assessment (NAEYC & NAECS/SDE 1992). In short,
NAEYC believes that in any given situation, a professional judgment by the
teacher is required to determine if a specific use of technology is age
appropriate, individually appropriate, and culturally appropriate.
The teacher's role is critical in making certain that good decisions are
made about which technology to use and in supporting children in their use of
technology to ensure that potential benefits are achieved. Teachers must take
time to evaluate and choose software in light of principles of development and
learning and must carefully observe children using the software to identify both
opportunities and problems and make appropriate adaptations. Choosing
appropriate software is similar to choosing appropriate books for the classroom
-- teachers constantly make judgments about what is age appropriate,
individually appropriate, and culturally appropriate. Teachers should look
for ways to use computers to support the development and learning that occur
in other parts of the classroom and the development and learning that happen
with computers in complement with activities off the computer. Good teaching
practices must always be the guiding goal when selecting and using new
- Used appropriately, technology can enhance children's cognitive and
Computers are intrinsically compelling for young children. The sounds and
graphics gain children's attention. Increasingly, young children observe adults
and older children working on computers, and they want to do it, too.
Children get interested because they can make things happen with computers.
Developmentally appropriate software engages children in creative play, mastery
learning, problem solving, and conversation. The children control the pacing
and the action. They can repeat a process or activity as often as they like
and experiment with variations. They can collaborate in making decisions and
share their discoveries and creations (Haugland & Shade 1990).
Well-designed early childhood software grows in dimension with the child,
enabling her to find new challenges as she becomes more proficient. Appropriate
visual and verbal prompts designed in the software expand play themes and
opportunities while leaving the child in control. Vast collections of images,
sounds, and information of all kinds are placed at the child's disposal.
Software can be made age appropriate even for children as young as three or
When used appropriately, technology can support and extend traditional
materials in valuable ways. Research points to the positive effects of
technology in children's learning and development, both cognitive and social
(Clements 1994; Haugland & Shade 1994). In addition to actually developing
children's abilities, technology provides an opportunity for assessment.
Observing the child at the computer offers teachers a "window" onto a
child's thinking. Just as parents continue to read to children who can read
themselves, parents and teachers should both participate with children in
computer activities and encourage children to use computers on their own and
Research demonstrates that when working with a computer children prefer
working with one or two partners over working alone (Lipinski et al. 1986; Rhee
& Chavnagri 1991; Clements, Nastasi, & Swaminathan 1993). They seek
help from one another and seem to prefer help from peers over help from the
teacher (King & Alloway 1992; Nastasi & Clements 1993). Children
engage in high levels of spoken communication and cooperation at the computer.
They initiate interactions more frequently and in different ways than when
engaged with traditional activities, such as puzzles or blocks. They engage
in more turn taking at the computer and simultaneously show high levels of
language and cooperative-play activity.
Technology extends benefits of collaboration beyond the immediate classroom
environment for children in the primary grades who can already read and write.
With the potential of access to the Internet or other on-line "user
friendly" networks, young children can collaborate with children in other
classrooms, cities, counties, states, and even countries. Through electronic
field trips in real time or via diskette, children are able to share different
cultural and environmental experiences. Electronic mail and telecommunications
opportunities through the Internet facilitate direct communication and promote
social interactions previously limited by the physical location of
- Appropriate technology is integrated into the regular learning
environment and used as one of many options to support children's learning.
Every classroom has its own guiding philosophies, values, schedules, themes,
and activities. As part of the teacher's overall classroom plan, computers
should be used in ways that support these existing classroom educational
directions rather than distort or replace them. Computers should be integrated
into early childhood practice physically, functionally, and philosophically.
Teachers can accommodate integration in at least five ways:
- Locate computers in the classroom, rather than in a separate computer lab
(Davis & Shade 1994).
- Integrate technology into the daily routine of classroom activity. For
example, a teacher might introduce musical rhythm with actions, recordings,
and a computer used as an electronic rhythm-matching game. The children then
would work in small groups with the computer program serving as one of several
- Choose software to enrich curriculum content, other classroom activities,
or concepts. For example, the program in the computer learning center might
allow children to invent their own rhythms that they could simultaneously hear
played back and see displayed graphically. They could edit these rhythms on the
computer, hearing and seeing the changes.
- Use technology to integrate curriculum across subject-matter areas. For
example, one group of children used the computer to make signs for a restaurant
in their dramatic-play area (Apple Computer Inc. 1993). The rhythm program
helps children connect mathematical patterns to musical patterns.
- Extend the curriculum, with technology offering new avenues and
perspectives. For example, exploring shapes on the computer provides
opportunities to stretch, shrink, bend, and combine shapes into new forms.
Such activities enrich and extend children's activities with physical
- Early childhood educators should promote equitable access to technology
for all children and their families. Children with special needs should have
increased access when this is helpful.
Educators using technology need to be especially sensitive to issues of
A decade of research on the educational use of computers in schools reveals
that computers maintain and exaggerate inequalities (Sutton 1991). Sutton
found gender, race, and social-class inequalities in the educational uses of
computers, which Thouvenelle, Borunda, and McDowell summarize below.
- Girls used computers in and out of school less often than did boys.
- African American students had less access to computers than did White
- Presence of computers in a school did not ensure access.
- Teachers, while concerned about equity, held attitudes that hindered access
-- they believed that better behaved students deserved more computer time and
that the primary benefit of computers for low-achieving students was mastery
of basic skills (i.e., drill-and-practice software).
- Richer schools bought more equipment and more expensive equipment. (1994,
These findings identify trends that, unchecked, will almost certainly lead
to increased inequity in the future. Early childhood educators must find ways
to incorporate technology into their classrooms that preserve equity of access
and minimize or even reverse the current trends. For example, anecdotal
reports indicate that preschool-age boys and girls show equal interest in
computers, but as they grow older girls begin to spend less time with
computers than do boys. There are a number of ways educators can proactively
work to maintain girls' interest in computers and technology: (1) consider
girls' interests and interaction styles when selecting and evaluating software
for classroom use; (2) model the use of the computer as a learning and
productivity tool and invite children, especially girls, to observe and assist
them in the work; and (3) promote equity by offering special times for "girls
only" use of computers, which permits girls to explore the computer
without having to directly compete with boys (Thouvenelle, Borunda, &
Considerations of equity in curriculum content require qualitative
judgments. For example, research evidence indicates that children who are
economically disadvantaged have less access to computers at home and at-home
access is related to attitudes and competence (Martinez & Mead 1988). If
schools wish to provide equity to children of low-income families, with respect
to their confidence and competence concerning computer learning, these children
need to be provided more in-school computer access (Sutton 1991). And that
access must be meaningful, moving beyond rote drill-and-practice usage.
Preschool-age children spend time in a variety of diverse settings (e.g.,
homes, child care centers, family child care), which further complicates the
issues of equity and access. Some of these settings have considerable access to
technology while others lack the very basics. The more early childhood
educators believe in the benefits of appropriate use of technology at the
preschool age, the more responsibility we bear in ensuring equity and access
to this important learning tool.
Efforts should be made to ensure access to appropriate technology for
children with special needs, for whom assistive technologies may be essential
for successful inclusion.
For children with special needs, technology has many potential benefits.
Technology can be a powerful compensatory tool -- it can augment sensory input
or reduce distractions; it can provide support for cognitive processing or
enhance memory and recall; it can serve as a personal "on-demand"
tutor and as an enabling device that supports independent functioning.
The variety of assistive-technology products ranges from low-tech toys with
simple switches to expansive high-tech systems capable of managing complex
environments. These technologies empower young children, increasing their
independence and supporting their inclusion in classes with their peers. With
adapted materials, young children with disabilities no longer have to be
excluded from activities. Using appropriately designed and supported computer
applications, the ability to learn, move, communicate, and recreate are within
the reach of all learners.
Yet, with all these enhanced capabilities, this technology requires
thoughtful integration into the early childhood curriculum, or it may fall far
short of its promise. Educators must match the technology to each child's
unique special needs, learning styles, and individual preferences.
- The power of technology to influence children's learning and
development requires that attention be paid to eliminating stereotyping of any
group and eliminating exposure to violence, especially as a problem-solving
Technology can be used to affirm children's diversity.
Early childhood educators must devote extra effort to ensure that the
software in classrooms reflects and affirms children's diverse cultures,
languages, and ethnic heritages. Like all educational materials, software
should reflect the world children live in: it should come in multiple
languages, reflect gender equity, contain people of color and of differing
ages and abilities, and portray diverse families and experiences
(Derman-Sparks & A.B.C. Task Force 1989; Haugland & Shade 1994).
Teachers should actively select software that promotes positive social
Just like movies and television today, children's software is often violent
and much of it explicit and brutally graphic, as in most of the best-selling
titles for the popular game machines. But, often, violence is presented in ways
that are less obvious. In all of its forms, violence in software threatens
young children's development and challenges early childhood educators, who
must take active steps to keep it out of their classrooms (see the NAEYC
Position Statement on Violence in the Lives of Children 1994).
Some software programs offer children the opportunity to get rid of mistakes
by "blowing up" their creations -- complete with sound effects --
instead of simply erasing or starting over. As a metaphor for solving
problems or getting rid of mistakes, "blowing up" is problematic.
In the context of a computer software experience, it is more troubling than in
the context of television or video. Children control the computer software,
and, instead of being passive viewers of what appears on the screen, with the
computer they become active decisionmakers about what takes place on the
screen. Software programs that empower children to freely blow up or destroy
without thought of the actual consequences of their actions can further the
disconnection between personal responsibility and violent outcomes.
Identifying and eliminating software containing violence is only one of the
challenges facing early childhood educators. A related, opposite challenge is
discovering software programs that promote positive social actions. For
example, software has the potential to offer children opportunities to develop
sensitivities to children from other cultures or to children with
disabilities. Much could be done to help children develop positive responses
to cultural and racial diversity by offering software programs that enable
children to explore the richness within their own and different cultures.
- Teachers, in collaboration with parents, should advocate for more
appropriate technology applications for all children.
The appropriate and beneficial use of technology with young children is
ultimately the responsibility of the early childhood educator, working in
collaboration with parents. Parents and teachers together need to make better
choices as consumers. As they become educated on the appropriate uses of
technology, parents and teachers are more likely to make informed decisions and
to make it known to developers of technology when they are unhappy with
products. Working together, parents and teachers are a large consumer group
wielding greater influence on the development of technology for young children.
Following are specific recommendations for early childhood professionals as
they advocate for more appropriate technology applications for all children.
- Provide information to parents on the benefits and use of appropriate
- Advocate for computer hardware that can be upgraded easily as new
technology becomes available.
- Encourage software publishers to make previewing of software easier for
parents and educators.
- Advocate for a system of software review by educators.
- Promote the development of software and technology applications that
routinely incorporate features that cater to the needs of learners with
- Advocate for software that promotes positive representation of gender,
cultural and linguistic diversity, and abilities. Software publishers should
create a balance of programs that appeal to both boys and girls.
- Encourage software publishers to create programs that support collaboration
among learners rather than competition. Fostering cooperative learning
enhances the acceptance of the abilities of all learners.
- Encourage software publishers to develop programs that reflect appropriate,
nonviolent ways to solve problems and correct mistakes.
- Develop formal and informal information sharing and support for teachers,
parents, and appropriate organizations and community-based programs. Encourage
free community access to technology through libraries, schools, and so forth.
- Support policies on federal, state, and local levels that encourage funding
that supports equity in access to technology for young children and their
- The appropriate use of technology has many implications for early
childhood professional development.
As early childhood educators become active participants in a technological
world, they need in-depth training and ongoing support to be adequately prepared
to make decisions about technology and to support its effective use in
learning environments for children.
To achieve the potential benefits of technology, both preservice and
inservice training must provide early childhood educators with opportunities for
basic information and awareness. These efforts must address the rapid
proliferation and fast-paced change within the technology arena.
Opportunities that emphasize evaluating the software in relation to children's
development are essential.
Institutions of higher education and other organizations and groups that
provide preservice and inservice education have a responsibility to
- incorporate experiences that permit educators to reflect on the principles
of early childhood education and how technology can support and extend these
- give teachers concentrated time to focus on how best to use educational
technology and to develop a plan for the use of educational technology in a
school or early childhood program;
- provide hands-on training with appropriate software programs to assist
teachers in becoming familiar and comfortable with the operation and features of
hardware and software; and
- provide on-site and school-based training on effectively integrating
technology into the curriculum and assessment process.
At the classroom level, teachers need staff-development experiences
(Kearsley & Lynch 1992) that permit them to
- use teaching techniques that fully use the technology;
- encourage parental involvement with technology;
- match technology applications to the learning needs of individual children;
- look for cross-curriculum/cross-cultural applications;
- facilitate cooperative interactions among children; and
- use technology to improve personal efficiency.
The potentials of technology are far-reaching and ever changing. The risk is
for adults to become complacent, assuming that their current knowledge or
experience is adequate. "Technology is an area of the curriculum, as well
as a tool for learning, in which teachers must demonstrate their own capacity
for learning" (Bredekamp & Rosegrant 1994, 61). As teachers try out
their new knowledge in the classroom, there should be opportunities to share
experiences and insights, problems and challenges with other educators. When
teachers become comfortable and confident with the new technology, they can be
offered additional challenges and stimulated to reach new levels of competence
in using technology.
Early childhood educators should use technology as a tool for communication
and collaboration among professionals as well as a tool for teaching children.
Technology can be a powerful tool for professional development. Software
can provide accessible information and tools for classroom management,
planning, and creation of materials. Telecommunications and the Internet can
enable teachers to obtain information and new ideas from around the world and
to interact with distant experts and peers. Early childhood educators can
incorporate principles of cooperative learning as they assist distant peers in
acquiring new skills; share curriculum ideas, resources, and promising
practices; exchange advice; and collaborate on classroom and professional
development projects. Providing training and support for access to services
available via on-line networks and the Internet has the potential of opening
the doors to worlds of additional classroom resources. With a responsive
on-line system, mentors can assist novices in becoming more technology
literate and more involved in actively using technology for professional
benefits. As educators become competent users of technology for personal and
professional growth, they can model appropriate use for young children.
Apple Computer Inc. 1993. The adventure begins: Preschool and technology.
Videocassette. (Available from NAEYC.)
Bredekamp, S., ed. 1987. Developmentally appropriate practice in early
childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Exp. ed.
Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Bredekamp, S., & T. Rosegrant. 1994. Learning and teaching with
technology. In Young children: Active learners in a technological age, eds. J.L.
Wright & D.D. Shade, 53-61. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Clements, D.H. 1994. The uniqueness of the computer as a learning tool:
Insights from research and practice. In Young children: Active learners in a
technological age, eds. J.L. Wright & D.D. Shade, 31-50. Washington, DC:
Clements, D.H., B.K. Nastasi, & S. Swaminathan. 1993. Young children and
computers: Crossroads and directions from research. Young Children 48 (2):
Davis, B.C., & D.D. Shade. 1994. Integrate, don't isolate! -- Computers
in the early childhood curriculum. ERIC Digest (December). No. EDO-PS-94-17.
Derman-Sparks, L., & the A.B.C. Task Force. 1989. Anti-bias curriculum:
Tools for empowering young children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Haugland, S.W., & D.D. Shade. 1990. Developmental evaluations of
software for young children: 1990 edition. New York: Delmar.
Haugland, S.W., & D.D. Shade. 1994. Software evaluation for young
children. In Young children: Active learners in a technological age, eds. J.L.
Wright & D.D. Shade, 63-76. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Kearsley, G., & W. Lynch. 1992. Educational leadership in the age of
technology: The new skills. Journal of Research on Computing in Education 25
King, J.A., & N. Alloway. 1992. Preschooler's use of microcomputers and
input devices. Journal of Educational Computing Research 8: 451-68.
Lipinski, J.A., R.E. Nida, D.D. Shade, & J.A. Watson. 1986. The effect
of microcomputers on young children: An examination of free-play choices, sex
differences, and social interactions. Journal of Educational Computing
Research 2 (2): 147-68.
Martinez, M.E., & N.A. Mead. 1988. Computer competence: The first
national assessment. Tech report no. 17-CC-01. Princeton, NJ: National
Educational Progress and Educational Testing Service.
NAEYC position statement on violence in the lives of children. 1994.
Washington, DC: NAEYC.
NAEYC, & NAECS/SDE (National Association of Early Childhood Specialists
in State Departments of Education). 1992. Guidelines for appropriate curriculum
content and assessment in programs serving children ages 3 through 8. In
Reaching potentials: Appropriate curriculum and assessment for young children,
volume 1, eds. S. Bredekamp & T. Rosegrant, 9-27. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Nastasi, B.K., & D.H. Clements. 1993. Motivational and social outcomes
of cooperative education environments. Journal of Computing in Childhood
Education 4 (1): 15-43.
Rhee, M.C., & N. Chavnagri. 1991. 4 year old children's peer
interactions when playing with a computer. ERIC, ED 342466.
Shade, D.D., & J.A. Watson. 1990. Computers in early education: Issues
put to rest, theoretical links to sound practice, and the potential contribution
of microworlds. Journal of Educational Computing Research 6 (4): 375-92.
SPA consumer market report. 1996. Washington, DC: Software Publishers
Sutton, R.E. 1991. Equity and computers in the schools: A decade of
research. Review of Educational Research 61 (4): 475-503.
Thouvenelle, S., M. Borunda, & C. McDowell. 1994. Replicating
inequities: Are we doing it again? In Young children: Active learners in a
technological age, eds. J.L. Wright & D.D. Shade, 151-66. Washington, DC:
Wright, J.L., & D.D. Shade, eds. 1994. Young children: Active learners
in a technological age. Washington, DC: NAEYC.