Young children today are living in a world in which they constantly encounter technology, within their home, in school and beyond. Increased global connectivity and the use of internet and beyond has greatly influenced the world in which young children live in. children’s experiences with technology will therefore have a significant implication on their development and their future lives. Therefore the chosen focus is to examine if technology is having a detrimental effect on children’s development in the early years. The importance of young children’s experiences in the early years education are highlighted through theories of learning and development alongside the issues discovered from research across the disciplines of health, science, psychology and education. The rate at which technology develops is exponential, because currently the worlds computing power and capabilities are structuring tools easily and cheaply (TEF, 2017).
The ability to produce more powerful and faster processors for use in smaller and more affordable devices has led to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, computers and other portable devices which are all becoming a part of everyday life for children (Kaye, 2016). According to some estimates, there were just 10,000 websites and two million computers connected to the Internet over 20 years ago in comparison to now where there are 45 billion web pages and roughly 4 billion web users (Syracuse, 2014). Young children are growing up in this advanced world where technology is a part of their everyday lives and has a significant impact on their development. Previously the majority of children would experience unstructured outdoor activities daily whereas today children are six times more likely to play indoors with a technology device than to play outdoors (Gleave, 2009). Children are now using a range of technology, with touch screen devices being more accessible than ever. Recent developments have created unlimited internet access meaning that 97% of children today have internet connection on their technology devices (Office for National Statistics, 2014).
Even across Europe, 78% of pre-school children access the internet (Jie, 2012) with a large number of these children moving directly to touch screen devices, by-passing the personal computer stage. It can be argued that some of these children may have a digital ‘footprint’ even before they are born (Guardian, 2014). Alongside the development of internet access, touch screen technology is now a popular device and has become a part of our everyday lives. Children, before the end of their first year are using touch screen devices substantially (Dingli and Seychell, 2015). The effects of using these touch screens on young children are a concern for some parents and policymakers. A popular opinion holds that the use of touchscreens at an early age is likely to delay the cognitive development of children because they are exposed to screens too early which can affect the functioning of the brain and eyes (Sciencedaily, 2016). However, "in toddlers aged 19-36 months, is the age that parents reported their child first actively scrolling a touchscreen was positively associated with the age that they were first able to stack blocks, a measure of fine motor control" (Sciencedaily, 2016).
It is argued that touchscreen technology operates on Bruners sequence of representation systems that enables children’s cognitive development. It is enactive by being dependent on a degree of physical control and coordination, followed by iconic in that reading involves symbolic reading and visual representations. This may explain why young children are so good with touchscreen devices and why they are so engaged. The first five years of a child's life are fundamentally important to their development, as these critical years shape children's future health, growth, development and learning achievement at school. The first five years are particularly important for the development of the child's brain, with the first three years being the most critical in shaping the child's brain architecture. Early experiences provide the base for the brain's organisational development and functioning throughout life (Bruner, 1973). As a result of children experiencing a life of technology it is questioned whether children are gaining the opportunities they need to develop. This is supported by Montessori who suggested that children develop through movement and are considered happy when they are actively playing and learning in the outdoor environment (Pound, 2006). This implies that the use of technology is not beneficial to young children’s development because the majority of children are indoors interacting with technology rather than outdoors actively playing. However, Plowman indicates, that we live in a technological age so it follows that children need the technological skills, competences and enthusiasm to function and flourish in the world in which they are growing up (Plowman et al, 2012).
Therefore for the continued debate and for children growing up in this advanced digital world where this may have significant impact on their development and their future lives, initial researched has confirmed the suitability of further investigation with particular focus on children’s development in the early years and the factors effecting this.
Some factors that influence the use of technology
There are many factors as to why children are using technology within their early years. These factors contribute an impact to children’s learning and development as they are a part of a child’s everyday life. While no one can argue the benefits of advanced technology in today’s world as to engaging in positive imagination and providing a variety of resources, but connection to these devices may have resulted in a disconnection from what society should value most, children. Rather than loving, playing and conversing with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more TV, video games, and the latest iPads and phone devices. This can create a deep and irreversible chasm between parent and child. Even in low technology households, the home often provides a rich mix of devices. Through many homes encouraging the use of technology, the prevalence of devices in children’s lives has led to a change in the way in which children engage with technology. The social cultural theory asserts that children acquire and master the cultural tool of the situation by effective modelling and scaffolding the use of technology devices. Plowman suggests that ‘’adults and older siblings have a critical role in developing young children’s learning of technology devices’’ (Plowman et al, 2012).
However is this having a detrimental effect on young children’s development? By which technology needs to be regulated effectivity with an equal balance of play and technology which has always been seen as an important part of learning and developing. Adults are unaware that their own use provides children with the support to model and that their desires and their family culture shape the children’s forms of engagement. Therefore children now rely on technology for the majority of their play, grossly limiting challenges to their creativity and imaginations, as well as limiting necessary challenges to their bodies to achieve optimal sensory and motor development. Most parents either strongly agree (21.5%) or agree (52.5%) with the statement that it is important for children to learn to use technology from an early age (LiteracyTrust, 2016). This can lead to children being given a technology device from their parents as a distraction rather than initiating play and conversation with their child. Significantly a positive parent-child attachment will be effected. Bowlby states that a child’s relationship with its parents has an immense effect on the child’s overall development (Meggitt, 2012), therefore if children are having a sufficient relationship with their technology device rather than their parent, their development is going to be impacted.
According to a leading child psychologist it is more serious than that, and giving a young children an iPad to play with may be “tantamount to child abuse (Dormehl, 2015). This is a strong statement and a fascinating debate, however there is a small amount that disagree with the use of technology. In fact children should be involved in using technology but not at the exposure of play. Moreover children growing up in an affluent family usually have more access to technology tools in their homes. They begin to use the internet at an early age, and have highly developed technology skills and emergent digital literacy when they enter the early childhood setting (NAEYC, 2012). By contrast, children in families with fewer resources may have little or no access to the latest technology devices in their homes, settings or communities, especially in poorly developed countries. The Internet Access Quarterly Update (May 2014) from the Office for National Statics reveals that while internet use is well established and growing fast, the ‘digital divide’ remains a problem. According to the report, 5% of households have no access to the internet, digital TV or mobile phones. This ‘digital divide’ is linked to household income – nine of out ten of the richest households have internet access, and only one fifth of the poorest have internet access (Kaye, 2016), although these homes often provide wide range of technology devices, which early years settings needs to be aware of to provide opportunities to redress the balance. One of the main reasons as to why many homes hold a wide range of technology devices is due to advertisement which plays a big role in promoting the use of technology for young children.
The more TV a child watches, the more toys and devices that child is likely to want and ask for and this a continued cycle (Raisingchildren, 2016). However the effects of advertising can be limited by limiting the amount of commercial TV the child watches. Therefore the child is not interacting with technology and is less likely to ask to use technology. Although this is a big business for the devices manufacturer services providers and in no doubt this will continue to expand, as trends between girls and boys go on and differ or become bigger. Advertisement also influencing gender stereotyping that plays an influential role in the use of technology. It is suggested that boys have more confidence in using technology for learning than girls do (Yau and Cheng, 2012). Boys have been shown to have more interest in patterns, games, abstract rules and spatial sense. Whereas girls tend towards more social ways of interacting, and are shown to be more socially aware than boys (Education, 2017). Although the stereotype was attached during the point in technology development where computers had less user-oriented interfaces and where programming required many effects and boys seemed to gravitate more towards this (Dr Brett, 2013). This does not suggest that girls are not using technology today but it is suggested that single gender schools are a popular way to deal with these differences, where grades are improved through all subject areas (Dr Brett, 2013).
Some may argue, is this depriving them of the skills they need in the early years? Nonetheless it needs to be ensured that there is an acknowledgement that children will need these skills as they grow. Moreover in every environment that children are in, the use of technology should be to expand, enrich, individualise and extend the child’s development holistically. If this is not taking place in the child’s home environment then the knowledge and understanding needs to be developed further in an educational setting. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a vital stage for an enriched and fascinating environment. Although in terms of content in early years settings, internationally many curriculums emphasise the importance of free play and holistic learning. For example in Norway, the early years curriculum, does not say that technology must or shall be used. The guidance states that children ‘‘should experience that digital tools can be a source for play, communication and obtaining knowledge’’ (Ministry of Education and Research, 2011). This is in comparison to a more prescribed curriculum within the UK for early years, where the EYFS curriculum demands that children should recognise a range of technology.
2. Technology in the Early Years Foundation Stage
The EYFS setting delivers quality early education and care for young children. A part of the curriculum the setting provides a range of technological devices where young children will arrive with varying degrees of understanding of how to operate these technology devices. Many of these children are able to access, manipulate and interact with a range of websites and applications. Although it is the EYFS settings priority to ensure a healthy balance of technology so it does not have a detrimental effect on the children’s development. Accordingly technology is a significant development matter within the EYFS and is supported through traditional ways of learning. The EYFS states under the prime area of ‘Understanding the World’, that ‘’children should recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and schools and select and use technology for particular purposes’’ (Developmentmatters, 2016). This includes the use of the interactive white board, class computers, laptops, cameras, beebots, CD players and more. Activities in the EYFS using technology are integrated into all seven areas of learning and children learn how devices are used in daily life and practice this in role-play situations.
The use of technology devices in the EYFS makes learning and teaching more effective through interactive resources, which develop children’s thinking. Additionally, it encourages social interaction and develops children’s language skills. Spanswick states ’’Each day within the EYFS setting, technology provides children with an additional resource to support learning, from literacy and mathematics to art, design and imaginative play. Technology also supports in developing children’s fine motor skills, keyboard skills and hand-eye coordination.” (Daynurseries, 2016). Although technology is an area of learning it is commonly argued by theorists such a Bruner, who believes that children within early years need physical play as a central role in their development and learning (Pound, 2008). He indicates that through movement children learn about their bodies, their physical and social environments: they try out different roles and rules; they test themselves. Indeed, it might be claimed that movement, action and play make up the 'culture of childhood' (Bruner et al, 1976). This is an ongoing argument, but it is advocated that technology can empower all young children in that it can support all learners in an inclusive way and enable better access to the curriculum for all children (Kaye, 2016). For children with special needs in schools, technology is especially beneficial for their development. It can provide support for cognitive processing or enhancing memory and recall. It can also allow young children with special needs to express their views and promote their communication skills.
Equally, technology can give enhanced earning opportunities for children with physical disabilities that have previously been closed to them. E-readers assist students turn book pages without applying dexterity and voice adaptive software can support students answer questions without needing to write (Learnc, 2016). Therefore, the majority of children with disabilities can and do benefit from technology in the classroom as incorporating technology increases students’ motivation to learn and also personalises lessons to a child’s individual needs. In comparison for children who are gifted and talented or with a high attainment level, technology can benefit them in the same way by providing new ways of engagement, a variety of resources to support every subject and support for scaffolding children’s thinking, supporting Vygotsky’s theory of learning (Kozulin, 2003). Therefore technology can assist every child with the EYFS setting promoting an inclusive environment controlled by practitioners who play a key role in the early years learning and development. Similarly, the role of technology within young children’s lives is largely perceived in terms of constructivism, where children discover through the contusion of one logical construction after another. Papert (1980) exemplified this theory into using computers to teach children mathematics.
There are number of researchers who have considered how constructivism can be used within technology-supported learning environments. From a social constructivist view, Oluwafisayo explains that learning is seen as an active process where children construct meaning out of information being presented and learn well from interaction with their peers or teachers (Oluwafisayo, 2010). The teacher within the early years setting provides the scaffolding and support for children to acquire the skill to use technology. However, an early years practitioner states that within the setting children are often left to their own devices whereby the technology can be available but there is little interaction with the practitioners (Plowman and Stephan, 2007). Consequently are practitioners regulating the use of technology effectively by a lack of communication with the children? The practitioner has a role in promoting all 7 areas of the curriculum, but in relation to technology their role is to provide planned activities that involve the use of devices that are developmentally appropriate and provide a learning environment that facilitates and empowers children. However it is imperative to make decisions about when it is appropriate to select and use technology to enhance their learning. As this way children will use technology confidently and appropriately, becoming safe and responsible users. However research has suggested complications associated with the use of technology in play in kindergarten settings. Plowman and Stephan found an absence of language when children were using computers and even when practitioners were involved in activities, the language was poor (Plowman and Stephan, 2007). This suggests that perhaps technology is directing and enticing both the practitioner and children within the setting, overall impacting the children’s development.
The challenge then for many early years settings is the integration of technological devices into the curriculum and planning in order to maximise current valued practice involving practical activities such as building blocks, sand and water. In order to support early years educators a technology policy should be placed within the setting that sets out how to incorporate technology appropriately into the curriculum that further meets the children’s developmental needs. The mission statement + additional info on new technology Significantly not only the home lives of children but the early years setting are influencing children to rely on technology for the majority of their play. Sedentary bodies focused with chaotic sensory stimulation are resulting in delays in attaining child developmental milestones, with subsequent negative impact on basic foundation skills for achieving literacy. Hard-wired for high speed, today’s young children are entering school struggling with self-regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, eventually becoming significant behavior management problems for practitioners in the setting and parents at home. The influence of technology is also grossly limiting challenges to their creativity and imaginations as well as limiting necessary challenges to their bodies physically to achieve optimal sensory and motor development through physical play.
3. Effect on Children’s Physical Development in the Early Years
Physical play has been given some prominence in recent legislation and early years guidance, as research ﬁndings have identiﬁed it as an indicator of high quality provision. However, the concept of play is ill-deﬁned in current government documentation (Smidt, 2009). The extent to which play has been valued in the early year’s curriculum has changed over time. Recent research has shown that there is a tension between the ideology and practice of early year’s practitioners in relation to physical play. This has been attributed to an over-emphasis on attainment targets and testing, which goes against theorists such as Plato (395) who reinforces a child’s physical nature in play and suggests that children’s lives should take the form of physical play (Faqus, 2008). Conversely this is not the case where today, children’s lives take form of technology devices. The more time a child spends with technology the less time they are spending on being active which has been shown to effect a child’s physical development. Physical development includes both growth and the ability to use their gross and fine motor skills. In addition play is a vital factor in a child’s early years of physical development, from sitting up on their own to throwing a ball, children gradually develop the physical skills they need to develop into adulthood and it is questioned if technology is contributing to these skills. Tovey (2007) proposes that ‘’to sufficiently grow and develop children need to be physically active and enjoy the outdoor environment’’ (Brown and Patte, 2013).
Therefore while it is enticing for children to turn to technology for their play, an increase in exposure to technology goes hand in hand with a decrease in physical activity which can hinder a child’s physical development. Being outdoors for children is incredibly stimulating and multi-sensory. Although there are the challenges of living in an urban area such as the risks of traffic and, being outdoors is important for the body to develop and promotes a healthy lifestyle, reducing childhood obesity (Kidshealth, 2017). It also benefits children in sleeping and tackling emotional challenges, such as learning. Theorist Susan Isaacs, viewed the provision of the outdoor environment as a safe environment where children could express feelings and have access to animals, plant and play equipment as well as being offered opportunities for challenge and risk (Tovey, 2007). Whereas Frost supposed that these can all be learnt through digital technologies (Frost, 2010). For instance, if children are exploring the outdoors environment, a tablet or camera can be useful in taking pictures to recall their experience and regulate discussion and communication. This highlights how technology can be incorporated into the outdoor area to enhance provision. If children are not being physically active to the right balance, they are not using their body to its maximum capacity and are therefore likely to gain weight (Mirror, 2012).
According to a review in Obesity in 2012, a lot of screen time may increase the risk of obesity. As children spend more time sitting in front of the TV or digital device, they spend less time outside running around and burning off calories and energy (Livestrong, 2013). Over time, combined with an increase in snacking whilst engrossed with technology devices, this can lead to significant weight gain. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 10.4 percent of preschool children and 19.6 percent of children ages 6 through 11 are obese (Livestrong, 2013). Significantly the combination of weight gain and a lack of exercise can lead to medical issues and health concerns later in life, as well as suffering of relationships, and poor performance within education. Internationally, the situation of poor performance in school has also been fed by changes in attitudes towards physical education (PE) in schools during the latter part of the twentieth century. A generally liberal educational establishment influenced by parents has become less profound to enforce participation in school sports and outdoor activities (Buckingham, 2007). Even in japan where the tradition of ‘rajito taiso’, communal exercises which used to be compulsory each morning of school, is fading in some areas (Palmer, 2015).
On the other hand there are many government initiatives within the UK such as Play England and Change4Life that promote physical activity to prevent obesity and other health issues. Play England campaigns for all children and young people to have freedom and space to play throughout childhood within schools and early year settings (PlayEngland, 2017). The initiative campaigns for children to have the opportunity to play before school, during break times and after school hours, involving school staff, parents and other provisions. Play England also believe the development of fine motor skills are important for young children and that, It is only when children have mastered their gross motor skills that they will be able to control their fine motor skills, therefore highlighting the importance of physical play. In relation to technology young children seem to be able to learn to tap and flick a screen before they have fully developed fine motor control (Cristia & Seidl, 2015). Through touch screen devices and the use of a mouse or a remote control young children are using and developing the muscles in their fingers and hands. Also these type of devices support children in using the skill to coordinate vision with the movements of the body, promoting visual and fine motor skills. However, it is argued that it does not require the child to push as hard to use these technology devices as it does to produce something on paper such as colouring and mark making and using scissors, thus hindering the development of the small muscles in their hands and fingers. Extensively, a recent study discovered how children’s handwriting was incredibly poor, arguing that technology was a hindrance to handwriting (ifnotyouwho, 2017).
It is therefore vital that technology is notreplacing hands-on experiences for motor development. It has also been suggested that technology is only another play experience in addition to a child playing with Playdoh or blocks (Otswithapps, 2012). This portrays that it is important to regulate the time your child spends on devices and in front of screens as it can provide little benefit to fine motor skills. Additionally it has been argued that technology physically exercises the brain and eye and that the technology that is available determines how our brains develop. For example, as the technology writer Nicholas Carr (link is external) has observed, the emergence of reading encourages children’s brains to be focused and imaginative. In contrast, the rise of the Internet is strengthening the ability to scan information rapidly and efficiently (Technologyworld, 2014). Distinctively, Taylor (2012) proclaims that children who were allowed Internet access during class did not recall the objective nor did children perform as well on the material as those who were not “wired” during class (Psychologytoday, 2012).
Although, with technology being a part of young children’s everyday lives, children in a way can develop their reflective practice, critical thinking, problem solving, and vocabulary using technology. Furthermore, optometrists are also closely monitoring new research surrounding the increasing amount of time today's children spend indoors on electronic devices and the decreasing time spent playing outside. New studies suggest a lack of exposure to sunlight could affect the growth and development of the eyes and vision (Aoa, 2017). Similarly, today's technology devices also give off high-energy, short-wavelength, blue and violet light which may affect vision and cause digital eye strain in children. This can also affect a child’s ability to sleep by keeping the mind engaged and prompt emotional and hormonal responses, which can reduce the ability to fall and stay asleep. It is advocated ‘‘technology can trick your brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake’’ (Sleep, 2017). Although technology can cause strain on the eyes and brain, it has been shown to promote sensorimotor skills, which rely on using what the children see with their eyes and coordinating the muscles in their hands to operate accordingly (Dewey, 1938).
This can then allow the child to coordinate gross motor tasks such as riding a bicycle. Physical play is vital towards children’s development and as Freud (1886) regarded play as having a strong affective purpose, it is liberating for children’s situational constraints in the way that technology is affecting children’s lives (cited in Play England, 2017). But technology can significantly decrease a child’s experiences of physical and outdoor play which can stimulate weight gain (Livestrong, 2013). However, to overcome this McManis and Gunnewig (2012) argue that digital tools can be used in all targeted activities. Therefore an arguable question is to whether technology can be integrated more into outdoor play for children to benefit both skills. Nonetheless technology is benefiting physical development in some way. As Buckingham (2007) suggests technology is a way is in advancing children’s fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. Although it exercises these muscles Taylor (2012) suggest children using technology are commonly known to not absorb the object nor perform well. The ability of children to learn to focus effectively and consistently lays the foundation for almost all aspects of their growth and is fundamental to a healthy life but the more time a child spends with technology the less time they are spending on being active effecting the child’s physical development, this then there has a detrimental effect on other developmental areas including a child’s social and emotional development.
4. Effects on Children’s Social and Emotional Development in the Early Years
A child’s social and emotional development is imperative but currently, as access to technology for children in early years has far outreached the practice they can also be vulnerable to long term social and emotional detrimental effects. ‘’The emotional development of many children is being stunted by the excessive use of mobile technology, such as tablets or iPads’’ states the Independent (Independent, 2015). Technology can affect children’s social development by restricting them of empathy, compassion and sensitivity to human relationships, affecting their focus and closeness with others (Sharecare, 2016).
However it is argued that technology cannot replace human interaction or relationships or take the place of reading together and sharing conversations (Turkle, 2011). If technology is used appropriately, it can serve as a catalyst for social interaction and conversations related to children’s work. Children playing and learning together with technology can foster cooperation and a range of social skills including the development of self-concept, sharing, and turn taking, all a part of developing social skills (Isaacs, 1932). These findings illustrate a collaborative social and cultural perspective expounded by Vygotsky (1978), whereby learning is enhanced through co-constructing teaching and learning, concluding that a healthy social and emotional development will impact positively on the children’s lives. This research shows that technology offers both an opportunity for increased socialisation and quick access to friends within the early years. However, a drawback can be that children can also be socially or virtually present but physically absent. Communication therefore can be limited through exchanges which lack the depth and complexities of face-to-face conversations compared to the physically and socially preset friendships in traditional play activities. Subsequently, while digital interactions are enjoyable, are the experiences devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance impacting a child’s speech development? Relationships have long been recognised in playing a fundamental role in children’s development outcomes. Stemming from the work of John Bowlby in the 1950s, attachment theory forms the enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space (Ainsworth, 1989).
For optimum psychological and emotional development children need to be raised in a responsive social environment. Attachment research has continued to preoccupy a considerable amount of research and has extended to an understanding of the way in which social relationships feed into cognitive development, self-efficacy and learning pre-depictions (Bandura, 1997). This is well-established in early experiences that poor social relationships adversely lead to a range of developmental complications including developmental delay and learning disabilities (Seigal, 1999). Some children are not able to explore their environments and the materials within them due to disabilities. Limited interaction results in limited social skills and in this context, adults are crucial in choosing appropriate materials, ensuring time for play and supporting the child in initiating and sustaining play. The digital age also has a sizeable impact on self-awareness. If young children are engaged with technology the majority of their time, they are not attaining the exercise and outdoor activity they need and are therefore likely to gain weight. This can affect the ability to recognise oneself as an individual separate from the environment and others, affecting a child’s confidence and self-esteem (Wylie, 1979). Socially children with low self-esteem can be withdrawn or shy and find it difficult to participate in play activities, leading to the child to feel a sense of hopelessness. This can cause the child to engage in risky behaviours leading to social stigmatisation, anxiety and poor school performance (Livestrong, 2015).
Similarly self-regulation, the ability to stay focused and alert is also the one dimension of emotional development that is affected most by technology. Gerhardt (2004) describes how early caregiving modulates children’s wellbeing as they respond to their physical and emotional needs and that the caregiver is the model for self-regulation. These experiences contribute to the way children begin to process their own thinking and learning, but this can be effected if children are not getting these experiences because they are occupied with technology. Although when a child has been engaged at highly attuned, emotive and concentrated levels while immersed in technology, there is an opportunity not only for learning but the emotional ‘aftermath’ (Scollan and Gallagher, 2013). This is the emotional interaction with technology and the thinking about it during and afterwards. Children in the early years will require both cognitive and emotional equilibrium between activities and changes in thinking and feelings (Dunn, 1988). If these are not considered to the point of management of transitional space then children’s emotional development can be adversely affected. Therefore Levin and Rosenquest (2001) advocate that adults make informed decisions with regard to the provision of technological resources, to enable children to cooperate in both digital and non-digital realm. Evidently this conveys the growth of technology and the damaging influence technology has on emotional development of young children even in a safe and nurturing environment.
Bronfenbrenner (1979) captures the effects technology has on children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development through his Ecological System Theory and the transition between digital and non-digital worlds. The theory is a model for protecting children from harm. In addition to technology it is believed it can affect the Micro System of his theory, where direct contact and socialisation is affected within the environment negatively impacting on the childhood of a child. For example, young children can be exposed to inappropriate material, language and narratives through technology by older siblings or parents, therefore it is important for the adult to prevent and safeguard these issues. Luke (1999) discussed how the concept of childhood has undergone a fast transition in the way digital technology is ingrained into childhood experiences. She refers to child as ‘techno-literate toddler netizens’ of today’s society and she recognises the pressures of safeguarding and to ensure all children have equal opportunities of access and engagement with technology.
To recognise these opportunities, the Provision, Environment, Engagement, Protection, (PEEP) model can be used to reflect on and demonstrate how provision develops digital skills that impact upon a child’s personal, social and emotional development (Scollan and Gallagher, 2015). The PEEP model is a tool to reflect upon practice and interactions with children and technology and identify the challenges presented during digital interactions. Although there will always be challenges presented during digital interactions because technology is widespread and pervasive in society and will continue to expand and because of this, children are having exchanges which lack the depth and complexities of face-to-face conversations. While digital interactions are enjoyable, the experiences are devoid of social interactions. This is negatively hindering a child’s social and emotional development and poses a risk to a child’s self-confidence and self-awareness. Although there should be rightful concern about safeguarding and protection from the negative aspect, it should also be recognised that over protection can inhibit opportunities for children to learn to manage risk (cited in Meyers et al., 2010). In fact it is argued that technology, if used appropriately, can serve as a catalyst for social interaction and conversations for children who are deprived from social interactions and relationships from their parents (Lewis, 2014). Therefore, although technology can have a detrimental impact, through balance and partnerships with parents and practitioners technology can equally enhance social confidence and emotional resilience as it is embedded in our everyday lives.
5. Effects on Children’s Cognitive and Language Development in the Early Years
Research since the 1980s, has evidenced increased levels of communication in children through the use of technology, mainly the use of computers (Haughland and Wright, 1997). This is because technology enables most children to engage with spoken languages as well as with a range of visual texts. However it is imperative for technology to be used as a tool for two way communication because passive listening is not as powerful as when children are encouraged to be active participants, although, through on screen visual text, children will address practical ways to enhance their literacy skills and experiences. Supportive of this, according to Vygotsky (1962) language is the means by which it transmits knowledge to children directly and indirectly and is the key to intellectual development. Formerly language learning can be seen as dependent of other cognitive abilities. By contrast, constructivist and biologically based perspectives tend to emphasise the progressive, experience-dependent emergence of complex skills, including language promoting cognitive capacities and processes (Steven, 1989).
These theories postulate that domain-general cognitive capacities and processes are recruited to develop language, whereby language and cognitive skills both influence each other. For instance the use of devices requires a level of cognitive development to understand the symbols on the keyboard and the screen. Therefore it revenues cognitive development and understanding to influence language development and the discussion of their activities. The promotion of play is important for this, and when used appropriately, computers can introduce positive elements of children’s play and learning as they explore and experiment. Technology that is connected to what children already know and can build upon leads to greater motivation and self-direction. Loss of creativity can be a problem if children use drill and practice software. Open-ended software that provides opportunities to discover, make choices and find out the impact of decisions would foster creativity and influence their cognitive development. It is a tool that can provide an added option for young children to learn. Learning is a process where children actively build an understanding of the world based on their experiences and interactions. Computers need to be viewed not as new ways to transmit information, but new ways for children to create, experiment and explore. When used appropriately, technology can support and extend learning and thinking in a valuable and intellectual way to increase educational opportunities for children. It is critical, however, to find a balance knowing how to align the elements of healthy childhood with the unique capabilities offered by technology (Van Scoter et al, 2001) This is originally fostered from the brain development of the child. It is believed that brain development in humans occurs in correlation with the onsets of the main Piagetian stages and cultivates cognitive development as resulting partially from and dependent upon biological events occurring in the brain (Epstein, 1986).
To Piaget (1936), cognitive development was a progressive reorganisation of mental processes as a result of biological maturation and environmental experience. Children construct an understanding of technology and the discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment. This implies why children are known to be familiar and smart at using technology from such a young age and can be the answer to why children should be introduced to technology in their early years. However even though children are confident in using technology it can have a negative effect on their cognitive and language skills. In society today, sedentary bodies bombarded with chaotic sensory stimulation are resulting in delays in attaining child developmental milestones with subsequent negative impact on basic foundation skills for achieving literacy. Hard-wired for high speed, today’s young children are entering school struggling with self-regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, eventually becoming significant behavior management difficulties for teachers in the classroom. Although Technology World (2014) suggests ‘’technology is further strengthening brain development and the ability to develop reflection, critical thinking, problem solving, and vocabulary’’. This is supported through the games that children play as the enables children to self-regulate which, in turn, helps them think inherent of the cognition learning process of developing children. Cognitive learning and language development are major strengths of technology use with young children. Studies show that computers encourage longer, more complex speech and the development of fluency (TechKnowLogia, 2001).
Likewise Muller and Perimutter (1985) discovered that children talked nine times as much while on the computer compared to when working with a jigsaw. This is because young children interacting with technology engage in high levels of spoken communication and cooperation such as turn-taking and collaboration. Although The Telegraph (2014) advocates ‘’letting children use iPads may harm language development’’, but this has not been justified. However if children are not getting the physical interaction of language then children’s vocabulary will not be as advanced as to those who do physically socialise. Moreover rich digital resources need to be minded by educational settings in order to support children’s language and literacy development. McLean (2013) suggests the role of the educator is to encourage children’s access through the medium of technology. It is important that children are provided with a range of experiences as well as paper text to support their language and intellect. However recent research highlights that one of the challenges in the progress of this, is the lack of confidence expressed by some early ears practitioners with regard to their own ability to use IT effectively (Aubrey and Dahl, 2008). This is also affecting the use of resources and techniques which engage children in visual literacies and educational materials that are on devices that promote reading, writing and language.
Although a difficulty is the availability of these resources, including funding issues within educational settings that can hinder a child’s cognitive and language development if they are not resourced effectively. The language and cognitive skills of children with English as an additional language (EAL) can benefit from these educational resources if funded. For children with EAL using technology gives them independence and allows them to have greater control over their learning. Devices can also support understanding through visual clues and illustrations that children can recognise and are valuable for bilingual recordings that can support a variety of languages through story time. A recent study found that children demonstrated higher levels of persistence when listening to stories presented in a technological format. However, in the study the children appeared to be more responsive verbally during traditional story book telling (Moody et al, 2010). Therefore, the challenge that is faced is to ensure that all children have a diverse range of verbal activities to promote language and cognitive skills that are fundamental for educational achievements for all children. It is known that technology enables children to engage with spoken language as well as a range of visual text. Technology can facilitate more social interaction than the traditional activities such as puzzle assembly or block building (Clements et al, 1993).
As well as empowering children to self-regulate which in turns helps them think inherent of the cognition learning process of developing children. But it is important for these devices to be minded by practitioners and parents in order to support the child’s development. Although many practitioners and parents are somewhat reluctant to fully embrace technology as a vibrant addition to the literary learning. But it is argued that do children need to be digitally literate in today’s society to influence cognitive and language development?
The focus has been to identify and consider a range of detrimental issues regarding the impact of the use of technology on children’s learning and development in the early years. The results of research and investigation suggest that children of a very young age are being introduced to a digital world (Gunter, 2015). This fact does highlight some key questions relating to the possible implications or their physical, language, cognitive, interpersonal and emotional skills. There is some evidence that technology can enhance positive development such as, the development of fine motor skills and the physical exercise of the brain and eyes. Through this children in a way can develop their cognitive skills of reflective practice, critical thinking and vocabulary, using technology. Evidence has also shown that through educational uses of technology, increased levels of communication in children can take place on devices that promote reading, writing and language. Therefore it is clearly portrayed that if uses appropriate technology can enhance a child’s development in some ways. Ploughman indicates, that we live in a technological age so it follows that children need the technological skills, competences and enthusiasm to function and flourish in the world in which they are growing up (Plowman et al, 2012).
However it is important to obtain the right balance of technology use, because some evidence has also shown that introducing children to technology too early in their lives can also have a negative impact on a child’s health. The more time a child spends with technology the less time they are spending on being active and if children are not being physically active, they are not using their body to its maximum capacity and are therefore likely to gain weight (Mirror, 2012). This then leads on to the effects on a childs social and emotional development whereby the ability to recognise oneself as an individual separate from the environment and others, affecting a child’s confidence and self-esteem (Wylie, 1979). Communication therefore can be limited through exchanges which lack the depth and complexities of face-to-face conversations compared to the physically and socially preset friendships in traditional play activities. This can also affect a child’s language development if they are not having social interactions and are consistent with sensory stimulation of technology, which is further resulting in delays in attaining child developmental milestones with subsequent negative impact on basic foundation skills for achieving literacy.
The benefit of children being raised in the new digital age is clearly evident but it is important that parents and early years practitioners acquire the accurate balance. This is because children are living in a world of technology, which will not change but will become more advance as they grow into adulthood for the reasons that have been highlighted. While technology is a train that will continually move forward ( _ ), knowledge regarding the detrimental effects together with action taken towards balancing the use of technology with physical exercise and socialising, will work towards sustaining children’s development as a well as saving our world. While no one can argue the benefits of advanced technology in today’s world, and this includes myself as a result of the information gathered through research and own experience, connection to the devices I have mentioned in my project may have resulted in a disconnection from what society should value the most, the next generation.
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