Programmed by Screens

In New York and California exists a place called the ALT school. The Alt school relies heavily on technology for instruction and the observation of the children attending the school. At the ALT school, all children receive a tablet in Pre K and switch to a laptop as the children advance in grade. The New Yorker published an interesting article about the school. The ALT school says that technology allows for extensive observation, documentation and instruction for children and the school follows the method of employing technology to target student’s needs and passions.

Can educators utilize screens to enhance children's learning? Most school age children experience screens in the classroom at school. Should educators provide screens in preschool and aftercare settings to facilitate learning for children?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and research on screens suggests that children under two years of age consume zero screen time and after two years of age, parents monitor screen time. A healthy range of access to screens for children equals less than two hours per day. Most programs offer sessions of at least four hours per day. How can screens be included in our practice without influencing the best practice for children?

One of the arguments for screens states, people live in a technology rich society and a requirement for children to learn how to utilize screens helps children compete for a job when an adult. In my opinion, no child is required to worry about a future job at five years of age. Working with school age children, I have not discovered one child in twenty years who could not manage the technology of the day and many children recognize the technology better than the educators. Our program rarely employed screens and still the children established proficiency with screens as a tool for their work.

In observation of programs with regular use of screens, the developing pattern constitutes that many children avoid participation in other activities when screens are available. Even more troubling, educators follow less effective teaching practice when screens assist in instruction. One study at MIT suggests that removing screens from classes improved the quality of teaching. This study followed only adults but the study highlights implications for our work. If adults teaching adults with screens changes the outcome of the students work, how can screens in a program impact the learning of children who learn from adults?

Is the distraction of screens overriding the usefulness of screens? The Guardian published an article on Steiner schools and screens. The Steiner inspired schools practice without technology in the classroom and the article states; “research into the effects of technology on learning has yet to demonstrate much in the way of positive results”. Many children are overly attracted to screens. These children act differently towards other children when screens are available and less socializing, less cooperation and more competition ensue.

In a Psychology Today, an article by Liraz Margalit Ph.D. states, “If a child is spending time in front of a screen instead of with people the ability to socialize or learn to socialize is dulled”. The statement rings true as the children proceed into a focused state and tune out the world when screens are available.

The debate about screens will go on. Screens are not going away. Screens are becoming smaller and more accessible. Most adults will use screens in their work. Maybe as educators we could slow down the process and let children enjoy a world of imagination, creativity and awe before programming a child’s natural gift for discovery with a man made reality machine.