Using Digital Technology with Your Little Ones

Mother and child with ipad - image from
Category: Bookbug

“Aunty Sarah – put it on speaker phone, like this.” (Molly, 4)


Digital literacy in the early years

Some children are digital natives; they’re growing up speaking the language of mobiles and tablets. Many adults are still clutching phrasebooks to help them in this new world. Others are struggling with the cost, and their children are excluded from digital experiences.

Adults share their alarm with tales of toddlers tapping at books or attempting to expand images with their fingers. They contrast children’s lives with their own childhoods when all they hankered after was a digital watch, not an old fashioned one with hands.

Yes, that was me – and while I remember how much I loved my modern watch, with its rainbow striped strap, I also vaguely remember a sense of disapproval from my parents.

Technology isn’t inherently good or bad; it’s what we choose to do with it that matters.

There’s likely to be muddled emotions when we’re working out what sense to make of technology in children’s lives – because we’re also working out its place in our own.

So how to make sense of it? I think there are three things to keepin mind.

First: Remember what’s important in our relationships with young children

Encouraging families to share books with babies and young children is about encouraging conversations, cuddles, shared emotions, delight in new words and the rhythms and patterns of speech. Books are great, as are songs, rhymes and made up stories. Digital technology – e-readers, tablets and phones – can be shared, talked about and played with together. We need to think about how to use technology to support our relationships and add to the fun.

Second: Children are meaning makers

They make sense of the world and learn through everything they encounter. They’ll be learning about symbols through clicking on ‘play’ on an online game; by pressing buttons, numbers or typing text messages (let them randomly type!) or choosing emoticons. They learn through watching their parents shop online or by using the TV remote. Early literacy is encouraged by having the chance to explore what matters to you. For young children that means getting to use and play with different technologies especially the ones grown ups use, as well as getting to play at being that grown up and pretending to spend time on phones, tablets or computers.

Third: Talk about what we do and don’t know

Yes, we’re learning that screens can disrupt sleep patterns, but we’re also learning about the way technology can support children with communication difficulties to share their emotions and ideas. Let’s continue to research, discuss and explore the benefits and the hazards. Technology isn’t inherently good or bad; it’s what we choose to do with it that matters.

Take a look at some of the good stuff, learn from research and enjoy:

CALL Scotland’s apps enable children with print disabilities to enjoy sharing their thoughts and reactions to the shortlisted Scottish Children’s Book Awards 3 -7 age range.

Tips from Professor Lydia Plowman, writing for the BBC’s iwonder website. Lydia will be on the panel for the Digital Debate at our Annual Conference on the 19th of March.

Why not create your own Storymob? This is a celebration of a book that appears as if from nowhere- with costume, songs, acting and reading – but it’s digital technology that sets it off – view mobs on youtube and look at the Canadian Storymob’s twitterfeed.

And, just before Mother’s day, enjoy Kid President’s take on Mom’s…put your phone down, sing, dance and hug more. And that goes for dads too!

What do you think about using digital technology with your little ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Sarah Burton

Sarah is the Early Years Programme Development Manager (Maternity cover).