Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Computer Use by Preschool Children: Rethinking Practice as Digital Natives Come to Preschool

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Computer Use by Preschool Children: Rethinking Practice as Digital Natives Come to Preschool

Article excerpt

THE WORLD OF MOST WESTERN children has undergone significant changes in the past few decades, brought about significantly by the uptake of computers. Yet early childhood philosophy has been one where particular notions have remained relatively consistent throughout this period. Indeed, some educators see the use of technology as the antithesis of good practice in these settings. This paper documents the use of computers by young children and the skills and dispositions they bring to early childhood settings. It is proposed that the outcomes of this study indicate that young children have extensive exposure to computers in their out-of-school contexts and that early childhood settings need to recognise the changes within their clientele; their concomitant dispositions to learning and activity; and the implications these have for the provision of quality learning environments that enhance the learning for many children while seeking to address the potential digital divide for those from digitally poor families.

We locate this paper with the literature that acknowledges the impact of technology on young people who have grown up in social conditions where digital technology has been an integral part of their lives. We contend that the digital media children are exposed to may offer new potential for both children and the pedagogy in early childhood settings. Depending on the theoretical perspective one adopts, there is a well-established language of description for this cohort of people. They may be known as 'digital natives' (Prensky, 2001, 2005), 'Generation Y', (Charp, 2003; Zabel, 1999) or 'millennials' (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Zemke, 2001).

Collectively, this literature recognises the distinct and defining characteristics of these young people as being quite different from previous generations. While this literature has tended to focus on older children and young adults, we sought to explore the ways preschool children may be engaging with digital media in the home and how this may impact on early childhood pedagogy. We contend that young children coming into early childhood settings may be different from other generations because of the social and technological conditions within which they are developing. At the same time, we consider the professional development of teachers with regard to the use of technologies in early childhood settings. While there is an international recognition of the potential of computer technology to create new learnings and environments, this has not been realised (Cuban, 2003). This is exacerbated in the context of early childhood, where digital technologies are seen to be oppositional to the ideologies that underpin what is seen as quality teaching in the learning settings.

We pose the question that if young children are coming to early childhood contexts with a repertoire of digital skills and dispositions, what are the implications for the provision of relevant, quality educational experiences for the children attending these centres? This is particularly pertinent when educators espouse a 'child-centred' approach to their teaching. 'Positioning the computer as separate from children's development and learning within the early childhood educational context is arguably akin to denying the role it plays in their sociocultural experiences outside the educational setting,' (Marsh, 2002, p. 133, cited in Edwards, 2005). Furthermore, it may be compounded by the potential digital divide, where students have different experiences of digital technologies. There is a responsibility for early childhood educators to consider the impact of these differences and seek to redress them before the gap widens.

Computers, access and young children: The emergence of the digital native into preschool settings

Prensky (2001) has been a notable writer on the phenomenon of the digital native. He argued that this generation, having grown up immersed in technology, has begun to think differently from other generations (Prensky, 2005). …

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