BEYOND SCREEN TIME — Moving Toward Developmentally Appropriate Use of Technology in ECE

Some ECE experts contend that the task of defining developmentally appropriate technology use is no different from the task of defining developmentally appropriate use for any other learning tool, such as a book or a set of blocks. They counsel ECE providers to ask, as they would for any tool, “Is the content and form of the tool developmentally appropriate for young children? How will using the tool help support children’s learning?”

 The following suggests six factors that should be considered in defining developmentally appropriate technology use: 

Purposeful integration to support learning. 

Developmentally appropriate teaching practice suggests that, like any tool, technology should be used thoughtfully and intentionally to support learning and build specific skill sets. Technology based activities must be built into a larger curriculum, and it is important to evaluate both when these activities are likely to be most appropriate, and when traditional activities are likely to be more effective. Time spent on technology should be balanced with other activities. The degree to which online and offline activities are integrated is also important.

Solitary or cooperative.

Children learn and build social skills partly through interaction with peers and adult facilitators. Collaborative, interactive use of technology appears to have positive effects on social skills, whereas excessive solitary use may be harmful.

Sedentary or mobile use.

Active play is an important part of ECE, and technology use should support this goal. Sedentary technology use is associated with increased rates of obesity, but incorporating
technology into active play (e.g., exploring outdoor environments while using a tablet to identify wildlife) can reduce the likelihood of negative health effects associated with technology use among young children. 

The content and features of media.

Not all software, applications, and other media content are created equal. Software and other media must be designed to be developmentally appropriate for the age of the child who uses it, and it should be engaging, 
interactive, and educational.

Device features.

In general, certain devices may be more appropriate for young children than others. For example, young children need devices that are sturdy and easily manipulated. The appropriateness of a device may also depend on how it is being used. For example, devices used in active play may need to be easily transportable, whereas desktops may be suitable for more-sedentary activities, such as reading or writing. The features of different devices may also help build different skills. For example, tablets may help children develop certain fine motor skills and with reading and emerging literacy, whereas devices with keyboards may be better for developing writing skills. 

Total screen time.

Excessive sedentary and passive screen time is associated with negative consequences for a young child’s development, so setting limits on some types of screen time still makes sense. However, the two-hour guideline established in 1999 may need to be revisited to specify the type of technology use that should be limited. Technology use must be also balanced with other activities, so guidelines on the allocation of time may be useful. The definition of developmentally appropriate use should reflect and accommodate the wide variation in possibilities that technology offers. Limits on screen time may remain important in restricting use that is passive, sedentary, or non-educational, and they may also prove useful in ensuring that children engage in a balanced combination of activities. 
However, a more comprehensive definition of developmentally  appropriate technology use will empower ECE providers and families to make better decisions about the ways in which young children use technology—and help maximise the benefits young children receive from this use.