Technology and Its Impact On Our Youngest Learners

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Technology is used in early childhood classrooms to document progress and growth, assist in learning and communication with children with special needs, complement and supplement learning experiences, provide additional play opportunities, and contribute to a variety of learning modes.

Technology is rapidly evolving, and educators continue to develop new ways to use it in classrooms. Technology has progressed to a place with touchscreens and ways of engaging that even toddlers and preschoolers can utilize technology to facilitate learning and development and, according to a 2018 Northwestern University survey, it can be useful with intentional and developmentally appropriate practice.

Jiahong Su and her colleagues from the University of Hong Kong point out in an article titled, “Technology education in early childhood education: a systematic review,” that current technology development, funding and international interest has fueled a growing use of technology in the early childhood education field.

With more than 80,000 children enrolled in Georgia Pre-K and more than 11,000 early care and learning settings in Georgia, according to the according to the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), the use of technology in early childhood education can have a significant impact on our youngest learners. Factors related to how children can use technology—and the potential impact—are critical to understand when determining the best use of technology in the classroom.

Technology in Early Childhood Education Classrooms

Technology can be a critical tool to foster the development of school readiness skills. Smart devices allow young children to engage and take an active role in their learning. Research has indicated that technology can have significant impacts on physical development—fine motor skills and dexterity, cognitive development—language, and social emotional learning. Technology can help young learners become excited about learning and exploration, providing a wide variety of language development and communication opportunities.

Creativity and play are critical to high-quality early education and to young children’s learning.  Technology provides an additional outlet for children to demonstrate creativity. They can use touch screens with developmentally appropriate interactive media experiences to develop new experiences and enjoy creative engagements. Technology provides children with another way to play, express themselves, and cultivate academic and social emotional skills.

Technology in early childhood education classrooms provides opportunities for young children without access to technology at home to have opportunities to learn and become comfortable with these tools. This can have positive impacts on their attitudes toward learning, improve their sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy, and improve kindergarten readiness skills. With technology use becoming more prevalent in K-12 education, early exposure and comfort is a key component to school readiness. Technology can also assist children with special needs, dual language learners, and other children who may benefit from help communicating and expressing emotions, and with social emotional as well as academic development.

Technology can provide greater access to resources, more innovative teaching methods, and a variety of active learning environments—and it allows teachers to create learning opportunities that are accessible to all children.  By creating lesson plans and activities that reach children with a range of multiple learning styles and levels, technology can help young children:

  • develop and strengthen fine motor skills with touch screens and fine motor movements;
  • improve coordination and reaction time;
  • improve social and emotional development;
  • promote collaboration and relationships;
  • build cultural awareness;
  • assist language and literacy development;
  • provide opportunities for information processing;
  • strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators, and young children;
  • build problem-solving and self-efficacy skills;
  • practice persistence;
  • take risks and set goals;
  • encourage communication and collaboration with others; and
  • increase cultural awareness.

Technology Challenges in Early Childhood Education Settings

The use of technology varies across early childhood education settings, which also gives rise to concerns. These include challenges of extended screen time, passive use of technology, and non-developmentally appropriate applications. When technology is used in a passive, non-interactive way, the impacts for young children are less positive. Passive technology use is associated with sleep disruptions, focus, and attention problems.

Teachers still need extensive training and time to explore technology options for use in the classroom. They also need support exploring additional ways to have technology supplement learning experiences rather than relying on it for classroom management.  Teachers must learn to integrate technology into daily activities and with other learning materials and tools. The quickly changing, evolving, and developing nature of technology can make it difficult for teachers and administrators to keep up with technology and to keep current technology in classrooms. However, remote settings and opportunities also present challenges in early childhood education.

While remote settings can provide additional access for students with special needs and dual language learners, it’s critical for these populations to utilize the proper technology and tools with additional adult and educator support. Teacher, administrator, and family anxieties and negative attitudes about technology also can create challenges to effective use of technology within the classroom.

Research reveals that programs serving either predominantly high-income or predominantly low-income children often had greater access to technology and greater use in the classroom than those serving predominantly middle-income students.  This creates additional challenges for the use and impacts of technology.

Factors that Impact Use in Classrooms

Technology has the greatest impact when it adds to the use and engagement of other art materials, physical materials, and activities. Ensuring that the technology is used with an emphasis on active engagement and that it follows developmentally appropriate practice is critical to effective use in early childhood classrooms.

Technology is most effective when adults and peers interact or view with young children and actively engage with the technology. A key to effective use of technology is using active, hands-on, and engaging applications. The technology must facilitate learning and actively engage children rather than providing passive screen time. By using technology with other physical activity and social play, it is possible to maximize the positive impacts on young children.

Based on a 2018 survey of early education teachers, 89% reported they had internet access in the classroom, 81% had a desktop, 71% had tablets, and 30% had an interactive whiteboard. This was a significant increase from a similar survey in 2012. Funding for resources for center and school-based programs often impacts the availability of technology in early childhood education settings. In C.K. Blackwell and colleagues’ 2019 survey of early childhood educators, they found similar access to types of technology. The greatest influence on the use of technology was the teachers’ positive belief that children could benefit and learn from technology. Blackwell and colleagues also found that home-based and school-based settings had greater access to tablets than child care centers, which may be related to funding and resources.

Here are some key guiding principles from the U.S. Department of Education:

  • Technology can be a tool for learning—when used appropriately.
  • It should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for ALL children.
  • It should be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, educators, and young children.
  • Technology is more effective for learning when adults and peers interact with young children.

For technology to have the greatest impact, it must be developmentally appropriate and age appropriate, which includes:

  • content about how it helps children learn, explore, express, imagine, or engage with information;
  • context about the kinds of social interactions that occur before, during, and after technology use; and
  • alignment with the individual child and what each needs to enhance growth and development.

Recommendations for Programs and Communities

Recommendations based on the existing research include:

  • using technology to capture visual images of concreate physical creations, artwork, and dramatic play and projections to share with children and parents as well as for documentation of development;
  • using technology to develop lessons plans that are accessible and reach young children with multiple learning styles and levels;
  • supporting additional research into how technology can best integrate and expand play and educational play purposes;
  • increasing investments to support expansion of technology into a wider variety of early childhood education settings;
  • providing teachers with more training on how to use technology for educational purposes;
  • providing additional support and education to identify and select developmentally appropriate technology tools for teachers and administrators; and
  • expanding the use of technology beyond classroom management to be more engaging for innovative educational, play, and creative teaching tools.


Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director

Reg Griffin
DECAL Communications Director

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Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is responsible for meeting the child care and early education needs of Georgia’s children and their families. It administers the nationally recognized Georgia’s Pre-K Program, licenses child care centers and home-based child care, administers Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) program, federal nutrition programs, and manages Quality Rated, Georgia’s community powered child care rating system.

The department also houses the Head Start State Collaboration Office, distributes federal funding to enhance the quality and availability of child care, and collaborates with Georgia child care resource and referral agencies and organizations throughout the state to enhance early care and education.