In school age care there is a tradition of giving children rewards for reaching behavior milestones. This type rewards system has achieved mixed success in guiding children to incorporate the school mottos, be safe, be kind, and be responsible into their daily actions. One carrot offered to children in afterschool programs, is the reward of electronics day.
Electronics day is a unique time where children are invited to bring an electronic device, a game boy or a phone into the program for the day and enjoy unlimited access to the device while they attend the program. The children love this reward, and choose it frequently when selecting a reward for following the rules. Many programs have computers for other educational purposes, but electronics day features devices used for the sole purpose of gaming, videos, and music.
During a typical electronics day, children arrive, say hello, and then spend most of their free time playing games and staring at a screen. The children do takes breaks to eat, play outside, and re-charge the batteries of their devices, but an entire day that is ripe with possibilities is exchanged for the blinking and buzzing of a screen.
What about the educators? What do they while the children are playing Minecraft and driving Mario around a screen?
Some educators catch up on paperwork, exchange ideas with other educators, negotiate social skills over who gets to use the limited number of outlets and charge their batteries next, and work with a few children that do not have electronics and want to do other work.
Is the use of electronics occasionally, inhibiting the establishment of a growing vibrant learning community? How can technology in school age care be used differently?
Technology can be wonderful. The potential of computers and online learning to expand our knowledge is amazing. In our field, schools exist that frequently utilize computers and other technology in meaningful work. Last year, I visited the Municipal Schools of Reggio Emilia. Adjacent to The Loris Malaguzzi Center is a Primary school. During my tour of the school one of the things I noticed was the use of technology. Almost every room in the school had computers, monitors, cameras, projectors, and tablets. These electronic devices were integrated into the classroom space like chairs and pencils. They did not appear to have any more prominence than paper, books, or the work of the children. They existed as a tool, a compliment to learning, instead of an entertainment device.
In school age care, technology is primarily employed as a distraction. In the Municipal Schools of Reggio Emilia technology is used as an attraction, a tool to bring children and educators in closer to the wonderings of the learning community. Technology does not take children away from something it invites them into the experience and the work of the program.
When using technology passively, children are often distracted and lose the motivation to create. This is because of the relationship children have to technology. Even though the software that runs a program takes an action from the child to manipulate, the majority of the creative input is still from the creator of the software, making it a passive experience. My observation in schools of Reggio Emilia was different. As I visited different preschools and observed children working within the space, computers and other pieces of technology were utilized to enhance the explorations of the moment. The children were using the technology interactively in relation to a larger investigation of their wonderings. Then effortlessly, the children moved on to other work in artistic expression, block building, and outside play without a concern that technology was nearby and available.
The difference between my experience in Reggio Emilia and experiencing electronics day here in the states is that technology has been introduced as an active digital tool for learning. The relationship the children in Reggio Emilia have with technology comes from a different mindset. If we adapted our practice and embraced the possibilities of digital tools, educators and children could change their perspective, experience and our interaction with a wonderful tool for learning. In school age care, instead of electronics day, lets have electronics year. In electronics year we invite children to use electronics not as a distraction but a tool to expand, inform, and enlighten their work.
How is technology incorporated into your program?