By Michael Hilkemeijer
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Digital play in the early years can be facilitated in many ways within the learning environment when supporting the use of iPads in the preschool classroom.
There are many benefits that are associated with using digital technology in early childhood education such as how iPads can encourage touch in the context of digital technologies. Research (Flewitt et. al. as cited in Sakr, 2020) has suggested that the sensitivity of digital screens in relation to their capacity to respond to even the slightest touch from young children can be particularly important. This is significant for those children who do struggle to apply pressure within their touch.
Selecting tablets that encourage playful explorations
One of the most important pedagogical considerations that you will need to make as an early childhood practitioner is to select developmentally appropriate resources. This is because learning opportunities are shaped by such decisions and with the rapid evolution of technological developments the consideration of appropriate digital resources for young children is vital.
For example, studies have indicated that it is important to consider the size of children’s fingers and their emergent fine motor skills when choosing tablet computers. Additionally, the size of the screen is also important as children at preschool age are still working in large motor format and use sweeping motions rather than fine motor. As a further note to remember here is that this age of children also tends to want to hold onto a piece of paper or device with their other hand and a smaller screen would result in part of it being obscured.
The following pedagogical approaches can be used with iPads in the preschool classroom today. Along with each I have tried to make connections to the appropriate EYLF learning outcomes.
iPads in the preschool classroom have the capability to allow young children to create and share digital content that focuses on art forms and focuses on cross-curricular learning. Some examples of this include digital storytelling, drawing and painting programs, digital photography and even animation through the use of iPads in early childhood education.
This has direct implications for EYLF learning outcome 5. There is particular references to learning outcomes 5.3 and 5.5 here. The Australian Curriculum also has connections here in The Arts (ACARA, 2013). EYLF learning outcome 5 seeks to develop the capacity to be effective communicators. There are four statements that have direct links to the uptake of mobile technologies:
- Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes.
- Children engage with a range of texts and gain meaning from these texts;
- Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media;
- Children use information and communication technologies to access information.
The early childhood pedagogies that accompany these learning outcomes are as follows.
Creating from scratch
It is recommended that when choosing apps to nurture creativity in early childhood education that you allow children to have full control and input in the app itself as it means that they will be able to engage with the app to create something from scratch.
Drill and practice apps should be avoided as these apps facilitate a “lower-level neural development and often include excessive rewarding that can create unrealistic expectations in children” (Highfields, 2013 as cited in Dezuanni et. al., 2015).
Complimenting traditional work
Another important strategy that should be applied is enabling the use of digital technology in preschool classrooms such as iPads to compliment non-digital and physical arts engagement. Recent studies by Dezuanni et. al. (2015) indicated that many parents not only now expect to see digital technology embedded in the preschool curriculum but also educators do now see it as indicative of a high-quality learning programme. One example that you could build upon yourself is enabling the children to take photos of their ‘hands-on’ artwork with the iPad or by adding drawings to the photos later. They could have been doing some work on rhymes for example and be taking photos of gardens by which drawings could be added to the photos later.
The app Draw & Tell by Duck Duck Moose is a good app that you can start with. This type of app enables the children to create a unified artwork that integrates both spoken text and image. Its features make it easy for children to understand that communication can be both verbal and non-verbal along with encouraging them to express their ideas and make meaningful content using a range of media.
As a final note, it is imperative to remember that such digital technology in preschool like iPads “should not be undertaken without consideration to the learning context in which adult-supported, discovery and play-based pedagogical approaches are used” (Gattenhof & Dezuanni, 2015).
Drawing and writing on the screen
Research has also indicated (Knight & Dooley, 2015) that when drawing and writing on the screens you can explain to children how to use the new drawing or writing app by drawing on task-focused, direct teaching strategies. For example, the teacher in the study was able to suggest techniques and options for using the different functions of the app whilst the children were exploring the app and asking questions. This was repeated every time a new child came to participate. In this situation, the children have the freedom to select the activity, but the teachers use direct instruction to support the operation of the device and apps.
This pedagogic strategy has been proven to be effective and has been indicated to have encouraged teachers in this study. Introducing the children to a new app through direct instructions can make a difference in their digital literacy. The key to its effectiveness was in using sequential steps of how to open and navigate through the app and how to use each of the functions. Doing this, it helped the children to experiment with various tools and options to produce their digital work.
The educators in this study also used the correct terminology for apps and general iPad functions including ‘home button’, ‘share’, ‘export’, ‘swipe’ and others. It was important for the children to repeat verbally the terminology and applied it which aided collective learning of the technology by adults and children.
An important thing to note in relation to these strategies and activities is that they were similar in many ways to paper-based drawing and writing. Throughout the process, none of the educators told the children what to draw and write but responded to their ideas as they occurred. Additionally, direct instruction was limited to device and app operation. Assistance was given to children if the app confused them but otherwise, they worked independently.
It was found that when the children produced work and expressed their want to discuss it that the educators found it best to extend those discussions. During these times of discussions, all the children typically stopped using the iPads so that they could contribute before recommencing their work.
All this initial instruction given by the educators in the study enabled the children to independently trial and explore digital drawing and writing techniques such as using the finger to make lines on a chosen background for example. The children were also shown how to save their work into a folder that was set up by the educators for uploading onto the preschool computer.
Understandably, in a digital age many adults such as yourself may or may not feel comfortable with digital play. Therefore, your taking part in this online professional learning with us is important because it is through upskilling and becoming genuinely excited about digital play possibilities that you will yourself enjoy and would like to share with children.
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