Screen short cuts

What are parents asking and what is the answer when they query screen policies in early education and care services? Soon their questions might be a lot harder.

It’s not unusual to hear parents ask about screen use at early childhood services and to hear educators and Directors promote their ‘no screen’ policies.

It seems to reassure parents and give educators the chance to establish their credentials. Both seem to use the exchange as a shortcut to agreeing that they care: about children having quality, educationally focused, play-based early learning experiences.

The question came up again recently when Digichild was visiting an early education and care centre in Melbourne. In its rich, tactile learning environment technology is seamlessly integrated into relationships between the centre, parents and educators. Cameras, coded security and swipe in/out are part of parent and staff daily rituals. An app keeps parents in touch with the child’s day, with the Director and with issues big and small. The app-based inventory can even show how many gloves are in the store room and order food when supplies are low.

But children at this service do not use screens. The answer reassured those parents on that day.

At least, children at this service do not use screens in the way we think of, and in the way the parents meant, when they asked about screens. Passive, non-engaging screens. TV screens. Video screens. Small tablet screens. Those guilty, baby-sitting screens. For hours. Or even for one hour in a block.

Frequently screen policy bans are accompanied by references to children needing ‘real world’ experiences, fine motor skills. Physical activity. Fresh air. Having enough screen time at home.

However the pre-school children at the long day care centre have a sister city in China that they see and communicate with on skype. Photographs are shared with parents and children as part of a daily app diary. Kindergarten and prep teachers can meet next year’s new school intake remotely and online. Clearly children are using some screens in ‘real world’ ways to understand and better engage with their world. They also play on trikes, with blocks and puzzles, create music on thumb cymbals and hold paintbrushes. It is not either/or.

Parents will continue to ask about screens, although the question is increasingly likely to be: how do you use screens here?

Other questions will soon emerge and they are likely to be a lot harder. Is the early education and care sector prepared for the next big technology questions parents will ask. It could be: what do you do to protect my family’s data? Where are you storing my child’s images? Families will be looking for reassurance on that point too.

Coming soon in the Digital Business Kit: Cloud computing.

For a different view of the questions we need answered on screens, see Dan Donahoo’s Huffington Post open letter.

For information and guidance on cybersafety, privacy and the cloud search for links and blogs using keywords such as privacy, small business resources, cloud computing on the following websites:

  • www.cybersmart.gov.au
  • www.staysmartonline.gov.au
  • www.acma.gov.au
  • www.digitalbusiness.gov.au
  • www.oaic.gov.au
  • visit ECA’s Digital Business Kit
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Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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