You’ve enrolled your child. You’ve bought the uniform. Have you had the talk? Don’t wait for school to do it. Now is the time to think about the values and technology activities of your family and start talking about them with your pre-schooler .
School looms large in the minds of pre-schoolers and their parents as the year’s end approaches. The focus might be on a smooth transition to school. With Christmas looming it might be what device a child might need for starting school. It might simply be: how many times can a child try on a new uniform without needing to wash it again?
Whatever is occupying parent attention, it is a good time to think about the fit between your family’s technology values, your child’s experiences prior to school and the school you have chosen.
School is still some months away. Four or five years of age may seem early to be discussing cybersafety, family rules and negotiating online activity. Yet children’s earliest years influence their long term wellbeing and development. Even if you think your child is too young to be online or using interactive devices, this is the time to make choices, establish values and set parameters about technology.
At school your child will be in a bigger pool of children with a lower ratio of educators to children. A wider group of people, their values and decisions, will start influencing your child’s technology use. A study by Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulatory body, suggests that older siblings are already influencing younger siblings’ use of technology. In some cases content was ‘inspiring and educational’. In others it worked to ‘bend the rules’ and introduce content that young children would otherwise not find so soon. Is it too big a stretch to say that classmates and their older siblings will, one way or another, influence what is available, swapped and explored by your child in their first year at school?
Parents can take steps to equip themselves and their child for these early days of technology at school.
- Set up the discussion and establish the framework early and in a positive way with your pre-schooler. Don’t wait until a problem with technology surfaces.
- As with other family habits, behaviours and values, aim for long-term growing together, shared understandings and age-appropriate behaviours. You know these will be tested and re-negotiated over time.
- Make the family the first place your child comes for technology-related problem solving, just as you hope they will come to you for other issues in their young social, emotional and cognitive wellbeing. Aim to be firm, fair, flexible and to listen.
- Know the devices and learn with your child. Become more informed through tech play and talking to other families.
- Keep up to date with security settings and new developments (for example see this video of Dan Donahoo explaining Guided Access at Live Wires)
- Staying up to date doesn’t mean adopting every latest development. Choose what is appropriate for your family, your wallet and your child’s learning context.
- Finally, think about technology values when choosing a school. Ask what supports, advice and devices will be in place for children and parents at the school? Does the school’s technology philosophy fit well with your family philosophy? How soon does the school communicate values and integrate technology into children’s learning? Are values and guidance on technology part of the day to day learning for the youngest children or deferred for later years?
While most information about technology for children’s education focuses on the school years, parents of younger children need to start early. Plan, get involved and act rather than wait. Even if your family has a low-tech environment at home, the early years are the critical time to shape your child’s lifelong technology habits.
For tips and strategies on managing the relationship between parents, children and technology see ECA’s Digital Business Kit. Try The Cyberlady’s blog or Chatterbox a government parent resource now part of the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner.