Technology and under 5s - All

Dr Cathy Hamer and Irene Picton

Children growing up today are surrounded by new technologies, embedded in their everyday experiences. Barcode scanners, mobile phones, computers, televisions DVDs and tablets are among the types of technology that your child will meet and use when you are at home and when you are out and about. In nursery and pre-schools technology might be called ICT, i.e. a combination of Information Communication and Technology.

How do you feel about technology?
All parents want their child to be happy, have friends and succeed. But, you may also feel a tension between your hopes for your child and have concerns about their virtual safety in a technologically new world about which you may be uncertain. As a parent it will be up to you to decide what will suit your child and family best.

Try to ensure that your child’s use of technology leaves plenty of time for good old physical activity and social interaction. Screen time may reduce the number of opportunities a young child has to experience the pace of “real” life and simple things such as taking turns in a conversation, which may affect resilience and concentration.

Older family members can set a good example by being sensible about their own screen use and putting simple ground rules in place, for example, “no phones at mealtimes” and “no screens for an hour before bedtime.”

What might I want to know about my child’s development and technology?
Babies start to understand simple technology from the moment they start to explore objects, such as rattles and activity centres. As they develop they show interest in toys with buttons, flaps and simple mechanisms and begin to learn how to work them. They enjoy anticipating sounds and actions.

Toddlers gradually gain basic skills in turning things on and soon learn how to use a touch screen. Often a child’s next steps will be to make toys work by pressing parts or lifting flaps to make things happen, sound, movement and pictures. They begin to learn that devices hold information and will be able to sing along with a song or watch something on a TV, computer, tablet or phone.

By the time they start school children are likely to enjoy being able to play a simple game on a computer or tablet.

What do I need to think about?

  • Using technology while playing with your child helps them to learn – at first this may be pretend like using toy telephones but soon they’ll be chatting to grandma.
  • Activities which you do together help your child learn to communicate – it is the interaction that is important, especially when you’re not face to face!
  • Showing your child that you use technology, e.g. texting, provides them with a model that they will want to copy, so do involve them. Show them and explain the messages. Send messages for them.
  • Make sure you check out programs and apps BEFORE your child uses them – they should be at an appropriate level for your child’s development as well as being safe.
  • Think about the range of opportunities you can give your child to explore the world around them. Try giving your child a camera and see what they choose to photograph. Print their pictures, send them to family, show them on the computer or tablet screen.

How can I support my child’s use of technology?

  • Remember that whatever the medium, your child will benefit and learn most when you take an active interest in what they are doing and take part with them.
  • As with TV, young children have a lot more to gain from new technology with an adult to help them explore, interact and reflect on their experiences.
  • Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a tech expert, you can learn along with your child.
  • It is important to ensure that any content that children access is age-appropriate.
  • Listen and watch stories together when they are using a touch screen, as you would read a book with them. Talk about what they have seen or heard. Ask them to make up ‘what next stories.
  • Take photos and make books, printed and electronic, about things your child has done.
  • Play matching games on a computer, take turns but don’t go overboard on winning!
  • Play going to the supermarket and ‘scanning’ the goods with a pretend scanner or download and app to do this.
  • Scan your child’s first attempts at making marks on paper and keep a digital record which will show their progress.
  • The best digital activities complement or inspire physical play, rather than replace it. For example, letter-tracing apps can be part of a range of ways that a child learns the alphabet.

Useful resources:

BBC Learning - Early Years Foundation Stage

  • Have fun watching Alphablocks and playing their online game or find out how you can help your child learn to read using phonics on the Alphablocks Grown Ups site.
  • Get Squiggling Letters is a new show and game on CBeebies where children can practise their letter writing. Learn the shape of the letters and put their skills to the test in a 'Letter Quiz.‘ Children can now practice their letter writing using their fingers to shape the letter on a mobile or tablet device.

Nosy Crow
Smartphone owners can hear more stories read aloud through Nosy Crow’s innovative ‘Stories Aloud’ series. These are print books that include a QR code on the inside cover that you can scan using a QR code reader (free to download) which will then play an audio track of the story read in a British child’s voice. Our favourite title is Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson, but there are several others available. We also like this publisher’s Red Riding Hood and Bizzy Bear apps for younger children.

Many young children love sharing printed picture books, and families can enjoy this experience on-screen too. One of our favourite ways to do this is the Me Books app (iOS, shortly on Android), a free app that gives access to a virtual bookshelf of high quality popular children’s titles (whole texts, many of which have already proved themselves in the paper bestseller charts) which cost between 69p and £1.99 each. Along with looking at the words and pictures (presented exactly as they appear in paper format) at the touch of a finger, you can also hear a well-known actor or personality (there’s everyone from Benedict Cumberbatch to our favourite, Adam Buxton) read the story aloud. More adventurous families can choose to record and save their own version of the story, complete with sound effects for the illustrations.

You Tube
You Tube isn’t all about cats falling down slides - you can also ‘watch’ lots of lovely picture books read aloud by visiting channels run by top children’s publishers such as Walker Books. One of our favourite ‘book films’ is the classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, and you will usually find links to other popular titles on the suggestions bar. Note: always supervise young children when exploring the internet, to ensure content is age-appropriate.

A parent's guide to television

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