Moving from Toy to Tool: How our youngest learners use the devices

In our home, the family laptop and tablet are used for entertainment. Our kids, ages three and five, think they’re toys. They get to play games, some more educational than others, and watch videos. The devices are an activity during long flights or quiet time after school. The tablet often magically appears during a long wait at a restaurant. And in my conversations with students in the Lower School, the technology is primarily used for entertainment in their homes as well. Nearly all of the students agree that devices are used for videos and games, i.e., fun. I think this makes complete sense, too. As parents, we all need those times in our homes when the kids are entertained by something other than us. Some of us (and I mean me especially) happily use technology to do that. But when it comes to our instructional approach to learning with the devices, one of our many goals is to show our children that what they may perceive as a toy at home, is really a tool.

In the Lower School, we strive to provide our youngest children with opportunities to investigate, build, connect with people, and work together, using technology in ways we (the adults) never imagined. The devices are used to redefine the learning experience; they are not a digital substitution for paper and pencil (or paint, conversation, reading, play). We create, collaborate, and communicate with the devices, and while that is very fun for the kids, the purpose is not entertainment, or even “edu-tainment”. Our devices engage our children in skills that cannot be taught with a textbook: critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and innovation. Today’s businesses call them soft-skills. Sometimes they’re called non-cognitive skills. We use apps that work synchronously with others, crossing all curricular areas and age, and positioning the device as an integral part of their knowledge construction, not the product (or project) itself.

Can the toy become a tool at home? It absolutely can! We encourage you and your child to take pictures or videos of original creations or things in the environment. On an iPad, the Camera Roll is like a hub for creation-based apps – they all “connect” through the camera roll like we take flight connections through Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Together, you can use photos, videos, illustrations, music and voice in apps* like Explain Everything ($2.99), Shadow Puppet Edu (free), ChatterPix (free), iMovie ($4.99), and iMotion (free); many these apps coordinate with each other so users can create even more complicated and dynamic projects. Then consider giving your children an audience – a voice. Share their creation with family members who will comment on it and inspire your children to create more.

Most of all, embrace the technology, as best as you can, while they’re young. Engaging with your child in the experience of using the device teaches him or her that the device is shared and that you are a trusted partner in using that device (which may come in handy as your child gets older.) You don’t have to be an expert either. Kids are okay with you not knowing the answer, as long as you Google it together.

*In the iTunes App Store

Jamey Everett is the Lower School Instructional Technology Coordinator.