By Michael Hilkemeijer
From a very early age, young children are exposed to an increasingly sophisticated array of digital technology to play.
They are immersed in practices relating to popular culture, media, and new technologies from birth and, as they grow up in a digital world they already start to develop a wide range of skills, knowledge, and understanding of this world.
Unfortunately, this omnipresence of technology is having a profound effect on their lives and many are taking technology for granted.
This is why planning in early childhood education is important. It is because when you do so it ensures that digital technology in early childhood education is viewed as a tool to support and enhance teaching and learning, and not simply as an add-on to the curriculum.
Your planning should always be flexible with any part of the plan being capable of being independent, stretched over a longer period or condensed to meet the needs of any group. The key takeaway here is to ensure that the children are provided with a varied and enjoyable curriculum that meets their individual developing needs.
When to use digital technology in the EC curriculum?
It is important to understand the best time to use digital technology in early childhood education. Your decisions need to be focused on exploiting the features of ICT to the best effect and how this contributes to achieving the learning outcome.
There are a number of opportune moments for you as an early childhood education teacher to thread the use of digital technology imaginatively into the early childhood curriculum.
You can either plan it for:
- Brief targeted moments that may consist of learning activities that take 5 – 10 minutes to complete.
- Spur-of-the-moment ideas usually consist of child-initiated, spontaneous activities that can be accomplished with little prior planning.
- Thematically approach that delivers the curriculum through projects or topics.
- An approach that is based on the breadth and depth of your Early Years curriculum where you have set learning outcomes that need to be achieved.
Short, Medium and Long-term Planning
It is important for you to ensure that these plans reflect the way in which digital technology is used to enrich and develop the curriculum. Here is what to do:
- Map out the curriculum during the year.
- Ensure that you are providing a variety of topics and meeting the needs of the EY curriculum.
- Divide the time period over which you are planning into fairly equal sections (e.g. half terms) with a topic for each section.
- Ensure that the topics reflect the interests and needs of the children and allow them to make links between the new ideas they encounter and previous knowledge and skills.
Long-term plans can identify which pieces of ICT equipment will be used.
This is where you elaborate on the long-term plan in greater depth covering each area of learning. Here is what you need to do:
- Outline the contents of the topic in a little more detail.
- Conduct a ‘thought shower’ on a large piece of paper of all the activities which are relevant to the topic.
- Understand that some activities go well together. For example, the topic of ‘ICT’ can be used together with learning how ICT can be used to retrieve information, creating or playing.
- Base these on observations of the children’s developing needs.
- Include a balance of child-initiated and adult-led activity.
- Involve the children in making suggestions for activities.
Finally, make sure that you leave space for unexpected or special events that play a key part in children’s lives such as birthdays etc.
The day-to-day activities should be planned in-depth with more rigour and look at specific early childhood learning activities and differentiation within the activity.
Don’t forget to look at the way in which digital technology can be differentiated.
Your plans should be focused on the needs of the learning activities such as resources, the way in which you will introduce activities, individual needs, the organisation of adult help, the size of the group, timing, safety, and key vocabulary.
You will need to identify the learning and the early learning goals that each activity is intended to promote.
Make a note of any assessments or observations that you are likely to carry out and after you have done this, make notes on your plans to say what was particularly successful, or any changes you would make another time.
This approach will ensure that digital technology is given high priority in the whole process of planning, teaching and learning for the child.
Finally, it is important that curriculum planning in early childhood education focuses on teaching specific skills to be learnt, knowledge to be gained and understanding to be developed.
Takeaway: Put an ICT column into weekly planning sheets to ensure that ECE practitioners think creatively about teaching a concept or plan for an experience using digital technology.
How to select learning activities that involve digital technology?
There are three key questions that you need to ask when it comes time to select early childhood learning activities which involve a piece of digital technology.
- What has the child gained in terms of knowledge, skill or understanding?
- Have the learning activities helped the child achieve something they might not have done in any other way through the use of ICT?
- Will the equipment motivate the child to learn and have fun while learning?
(Kennington & Meaton in Price, 2009, p. 15)
Matching ICT resources to learning objectives
There are many ICT resources that are available to you as an early childhood educator today such as software, websites and apps. As a result, the vast amount of resources allows you to be very specific about the role these resources plan in children’s learning.
Here is a guide to enable you to match ICT resources to the learning outcomes.
Drill and practice resources can provide exercises for children across most of the curriculum. They are designed to build on existing knowledge and some may have competency levels to cater to diverse learners. However, they will not develop children’s ICT capability and this is an issue in that it does not prepare children for progression in the primary curriculum.
ICT teaching resources are typically designed to lead children through a topic new to them. These resources allow children to progress by themselves and at their own pace. Such resources provide powerful support for conceptual development and they assist children to become familiar with multiple literacies.
Instructional games are similar to drill and practice programs at times. However, they include an element of competition that many children find engaging. These competitions can be a child vying for a personal best or against another class member.
Problem-solving ICT resources are great for engaging children in their higher order thinking skills and require children to apply their knowledge in new contexts that require them to make connections or develop strategies.
(Hilton et al., 2014)
Takeaway: Consider whether there is a need for a pedagogical change that would enhance the experience. Have a clear understanding of the purpose of the ICT’s inclusion.
Integrating ICT across the curriculum
When you begin to plan to effectively integrate digital technology across the curriculum you will need to consider the following factors (Hilton et al., 2014, p. 29).
- Incorporate ICT integration into lesson planning.
- Plan a gradual introduction to new or unfamiliar digital technology.
- Use support networks of fellow teachers or the library, as well as online teacher networks for guidance.
- Determine the role of digital technology: is it for investigating, creating or communicating?
- Identify skills needed to be taught before the effective use of digital technology.
- Decide how children use digital technology – individually or in groups. Collaboratively or cooperatively?
During the lesson:
- Be flexible if the digital technology doesn’t function as you wish; have a backup plan.
- Guide children to help them develop new learning experiences and understandings of the world.
After the lesson:
- Reflect on the benefits of digital technology inclusion.
- Consider changes, developments, or incremental steps for future use.
Takeaway: Think about which digital technology would best suit the intended lesson objectives and what would engaging and exciting.
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