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A few weekends back, I went camping with the family. We headed out to a 6000 acre cattle farm with no electricity, no television, no computers, no phones. IT WAS AMAZING.
While we take regular opportunities to unplug and head into nature on the weekends, it is usually only a couple of hours at most and before you know it we are home and the phone is ringing or the “I’ll just check my email quickly” is creeping back into my vocabulary. This camping trip was 2.5 days of complete and utter disconnection… yet was the most connected time we have had in a long time. We slowed down. We seemed to have so much more time.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly as a question around technology in early childhood settings was raised in a Facebook group in the last few weeks. This is something that I have had internal struggles with in the past, and I think many educators (and parents) do. Let’s look at an average early childhood service and even just society in general…
How do we document? Often on a computer or tablet, after taking a thousand photos on a digital camera (don’t get me wrong, I am a photography nut!)
How do we communicate with families? Well, I hope that the personal conversations are still happening, but there is often a lot of email and app based communication systems in use, due to time, shifts etc.
How often do we walk past a group of people sitting together, each on their phones? Probably way too often. This is something that I am becoming more and more conscious of and while I get it, there are times when things need to be done – texting to check on a sick child, transferring money, checking in on a work email, it seems to be that we are relying on technology for social interaction more and more, when real living breathing people are right there with us.
The point here isn’t to guilt anyone into abandoning technology (and for the purposes of this article, I am talking about digital technology specifically). Technology has a place and has made some amazing advancements in the way we live our lives, but there is a real risk of it taking over! And this is where my struggle appears. The world is a place of technology, children see us using phones and tablets and computers every day, and often for large chunks of the day, it makes sense that they want to use these too. I am not anti-technology. Right now my son is building a yoga studio on Minecraft. But, I think we need to be wary about how we use digital technology in early childhood settings. Giving a child an iPad or plonking them in front of the TV for 30 minutes peace to cook dinner is something that many parents will confess to – I know I do (whatever saves my sanity I say!) But, when we know the impact of excess screen time on children’s development surely we have an obligation as early childhood professionals to not contribute to that.
That being said, I have seen some wonderful examples of children working together to create something using digital technology, or interests being enhanced by research online. It is possible to be mindful in the way that we use technology in early childhood settings – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
But what I noticed on our weekend of “nothing” was how much the children did. There was no “I’m bored” or “what can I do now?” it was calm and yet busy.
They had time (and freedom)
to watch bugs
to kick a ball
to look for wombats
to read books
to play board games
to go for bush walks
And, as an adult in that setting, having no phone or iPad or computer calling me, urging me to write or contribute to online discussions or play Candy Crush, I benefited too.
I listened more
I asked more questions
I wondered more
I read a book
I went for bush walks
I had good, robust conversations with real people
We can’t unplug every day. I need to work and like most jobs now, a large portion of my work requires me to be banging away at the keyboard. But I have made an effort to not be so plugged in, to do things that make me feel good. And as a result, my children are wanting to plug in way less too. In early childhood settings, we should be unplugged as much as we can be. The time will come where these children will be teenagers or adults who are slaves to their phones/computers/tablets/whatever technological device is the “thing” in another 15-20 years!
Instead of rushing them into digital technology with the idea that “it’s a part of their world, they need to know it” perhaps we can decide that “play is their world, they deserve to know it.”