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Technology in the early years

Early Years Educator and early years technology specialist Richard Waite shares his passion for helping us all to understand the importance of sharing technology with young children. 

Technology is so much more than using screen devices

At my ripe old age of fifty-five, I have now been in the early years sector for thirty-seven years! In that time there has been one constant, and that is my love for technology. The changes to the EYFS in 2021 saw the absence of Technology in the statutory framework. I sometimes wonder if this was in part a reaction to a fear that technology is somehow ‘bad’ for young children? The buzz word for why we feel this way is screen time. Many I speak to in the Early Years Sector and beyond feel that Early Years Technology is about Desktop Computers, Laptops and Tablets. But what does Early Years Technology really mean? It is actually an incredibly broad area and can be incorporated into pretty much any activity under the EYFS framework. 

Many parents/carers will have screen devices of one kind or another at home for their own and/or their children’s use. Children may see them being used often, perhaps because parents are working from home, or using their phones to connect on social media/to get information. This leads early years educators I have spoken with to ask why are they needed in their nurseries? I will answer that with some examples a bit later.

Technology is so much more than computers, and the early years is the perfect place to explore this. It is all about Cause and Effect. In one of my STEM lessons at my current nursery I talk to the children about the technology all around them. I ask them to think about what technology they have at home that is not a smartphone, tablet, or computer. We talk about washing machines, microwave ovens, kettles and toasters…

Cause and Effect is how we should view Technology in Early Years. For example, in your baby room you may have push-button toys that make a sound or shakers that make a sound and light up: the shaking or the button pushing is the cause and the sound or the light is the effect. At a later stage, there are children’s cameras that allow them to capture a moment at the press of a button. Or torches that children can shine up at the ceiling, make hand shadows or stick coloured tissue paper over the front to change the colour of the light.

This for me is Early Years Technology and it is something we have been doing in the sector already. It seems perhaps the terms ICT or Early Years Technology makes it something new and different that practitioners worry about.


Technology and Enabling Environments  

How settings make use of all the available technologies in the early years is part of the Enabling Environments they offer children. With an understanding of their intention and implementation, early years technology resources have the same positive impact as other resources in your provision, such as sand and water, mark making, maths and creative play provision.

I am going to use the Bee Bot robot as a classic example. This resource can support entry level programming, as well as problem solving maths using the various Bee Bot mats such as the colour and shapes mat.  But it can also support children’s language development by introducing directional vocabulary such as left and right, forwards, backwards, and stop, go. Not so long ago the Bee Bot got an accessory to make it a mark making tool, and we recently purchased the colourful pen holders that clip onto any Bee Bot. We added some felt tip pens and introduced them to our children. By pressing the buttons on the Bee Bot they were able to draw straight lines and circles on a large sheet of paper. We had hours of fun with this core Early Years Technology floor robot.

As early years educators, we need training and the opportunity to explore the possibilities of these resources. All too often training in early years technology is not a priority, especially when funding is tight. On visits to settings I have also noticed how often ICT resources are broken or need batteries replacing. We all know it can be expensive to replace those that are broken. As with other resources, these need a check up every so often – broken ICT resources are frustrating for children and can set them up to fail.


More about Screens…

I’m going to give you real life examples of how the use of screens can have a positive impact in Early Years Settings.

There was a child in a nursery who found it difficult to focus for any period on an activity or free play continuous provision. I had recently purchased an Interactive Tilting Display Board for the nursery. I was demonstrating how to use it, and the child came over, seeing me writing on the Interactive Table with the special pen. I was selecting colours and drawing shapes and lines. The child asked to have a turn and remained engaged and focused for more than 15mins - in fact when the parents came to collect child, they were so happy to see him absorbed in this activity.

In another setting, an iPad was requested for a child with complex additional support needs.  Some apps were suggested by the outside agency supporting the child, and these were added to the iPad.  One was I love fireworks - a typical cause and effect app where the screen would be black with nothing happening, until the child just tapped it and then you would hear and see the fireworks jumping across the screen. This was a great sensory experience and made the child’s time at nursery extra special.

At my current setting whenever we want to introduce the children to a new tradition or custom from another culture to support the wide range of cultures we have in our nursery, we use the interactive board to introduce that culture and find out about its traditions with the children. We will show them dances, costumes, languages, and food representing that culture. Recently it was Kurdish new year, and we happen to have a Kurdish family at our nursery. They kindly offered to introduce their tradition and culture to our children. Before they arrived at the nursery, we used the interactive board with the children to look for traditional Kurdish dancing and how to say ‘Hello’ in Kurdish so we could greet the parents in their language. 

There are many more examples I could share with you! But I want to round off by reassuring early years educators that Technology in the early years is not a monster to be feared!  Remember the simple concept of cause and effect and begin looking for technology learning opportunities in your setting. Like it or not, technology is going to be the bread and butter for all our children in the future.


Further Reading:

Young Children in a Digital Age: Supporting learning and development with technology in early years by Lorraine Kaye

Digital technologies and Learning in the Early Years by Lorna Arnott

Apps, Technology, and younger Learners: International Evidence for teaching, edited by Natalia Kucirkova and Garry Falloon

Using ICT in the Early Years by Alex Morgan

Planning for Learning through ICT by Rachel Sparks Linefield and Debra Maltas

More Than ICT: Information and communication technology in the early years by John Siraj-Blatchford

Richard Waite
Richard Waite, BSc, NNEB Early Years Practitioner, Early Years Technology Specialist: My degree was in Education and Information Management and looked closely at the links between Education and Technology for young children. My dissertation was titled the effects of CD-ROMs on children’s learning in school. That seems a far cry from where we are today, and the technology children are exposed to! My previous role in one of the big nursery chains, was as an ICT Co-ordinator delivering technology solutions and learning to over 300 nurseries. I created and pitched the role to senior management myself and enjoyed the role for seven years. In that time, I remotely supported and visited nurseries as far as Scotland and remotely supported a nursery in Bangalore, when they needed an Interactive White Board for their setting. Before that I was a deputy manager in a nursery for the same nursery chain.

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