An interview with Cheryl Tremblay, of Cheryl’s Child Care
Early in my career very few child-care providers used technology when working with children or even for record keeping. In fact, purchasing computer equipment was not considered an acceptable expense for a childcare facility. I had been using computers at home and in school since 1990 and was very comfortable using technology – considered an ‘expert’ by many of my friends and colleagues. I was baffled by the Provincial Government’s view of computers as a frivolous expense instead of a useful tool.
I had my personal computer for business/record-keeping and also three others set up in a computer area for my own children and the older children in my care to use for school-related assignments and creative activities like story writing and animation. Back then most of our computer-related activities required a lot of planning, problem solving and cooperative group work over an extended period of time. Today I have very little technology available for the children to use because I feel most modern technology actually limits creativity, independence and social skills.
I do believe that some items such as digital cameras, cell phones and the internet can be considered useful tools for research and creativity but not as ‘activities’. Even when labelled as ‘educational’ TV/computer programs and apps are nothing more than entertainment which only serves to keep children busy instead of actively exploring and learning.
I think it is too easy for home based childcare providers who work alone to rely on screen time to keep children occupied/quiet. So many children are already overexposed to digital media and I believe it is our job as educators to provide hands on experiences that encourage wonder, exploration, experimentation and an interest in learning.
I do not have any handheld devices available for the children to use nor do I permit the children to bring their own from home. I do have my computer located where the children may see the screen so when the children ask questions that I don’t know the answer to I can research and provide the answer – this is done as an interactive group activity. The same thing can also be done through my smart phone when we are outside.
Any photos of the children that are displayed on my blog etc will have the children’s faces obscured and no names will be used so the children cannot be identified (even if the parents don’t mind if they are). No one other than me may take photos of the children in my care or publish the pictures without prior written permission from parents (MB childcare regulation).
I feel that the presence of entertainment technology limits a child’s creativity. Almost all toys available today are connected to some type of movie, TV show or brand and even when one child has not seen the particular show their play is still influenced by those that have. I have observed a group of young children playing together with a variety of small toys including animals, mythical creatures and action figures. Their play is creative and interactive until another child who is familiar with the shows connected to the toys joins the play and ‘corrects’ it. Play then becomes scripted and the characters’ actions are limited to what they can do in the show and these roles then extend into the children’s dramatic play activities too. Often certain characters become ‘power roles’ and control the play of all others creating bullies.
Many shows/movies have a positive message but it is hidden beyond the developmental level of the children it is intended for – in fact the message is often so subtle many adults would have difficulty understanding/explaining it. The action, graphics and excitement override the message.
Even fact-based documentary shows have become so theatrical that interacting with the ‘real’ natural world is considered boring. Why search the forest for hours for a glimpse of certain insect/bird/animal when you can easily watch a video of it.
I think the most important questions to consider are ‘Does the technology enhance the learning/creativity or eliminate the need for learning/creativity?’ ‘If it provides the answer without requiring the work does it have any meaning?’ – often the work/process to reach the answer is the actual learning goal. Think of technology as a tool – like matches, saws and drills etc – you wouldn’t throw them in a toddlers toybox and let the child play with them without first understanding the safety rules. Developmental age is also a factor – vehicles and machinery are invaluable tools in modern society but you don’t teach toddlers to drive and operate heavy machinery because they are not developmentally equipped to do so – the same is true for information technology – they need to be able to explore with all their senses in order to truly understand/learn/create. Introducing/allowing digital technology and screen time early often results in the child losing interest in exploration and learning. They become addicted to the instant gratification that screens provide and everything else becomes too boring or difficult. Without technology they feel helpless/unable to function in any capacity.
I feel all types of modern technology can be useful tools in childcare when used to access information or to enhance learning in conjunction with a hands on activity. Using a smartphone app to identify plants, animals or birds while out on a hike is much more effective than checking a book at home/the library after you return.
Cheryl’s website, http://www.cccare.ca