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Learning through ICT

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By Rachel Agerindependent educational consultant

ICT is all around us, so we need to encourage young children and babies to embrace technology and become empowered by it

Learning through ICT

What is ICT?

ICT is ‘Information Communication Technology’ and put simply, means all the technology that we use in our lives, such as mobile phones; digital cameras; DVD players; sound recorders; and computers. In the context of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), it includes technologies such as programmable toys and interactive whiteboards.

For young children, it also includes learning about everyday devices that we might not think of as being technology, but all of which contain a microchip that is used to control them. This includes washing machines; toasters; street lights and traffic lights.

Children live in a highly-technological world and we need to help them embrace this technology and be empowered by it. We can help them to explore and understand these technologies and use them appropriately to enhance their learning and development. It is important that we know not only what technologies the children have in their homes, but which ones they use, so that we can build on that child’s interests and what they already know and can do.

Birth to 11 months

Development matters: show an interest in toys and resources that incorporate technology.

A baby will experience technology and its effect from the moment they are born.

Digital photographs of a newborn baby are now so much easier for parents to share with everyone, involving more people more quickly into a baby’s life.

Babies soon start to interact and play with a wide range of electronic toys. For example, a cot mobile that switches on when they make a noise and toys with buttons that they press to play music or switch on lights. Babies learn from these toys that their actions have an effect on the world around them and that they can make something happen.

8 to 26 months

Development matters: explore things with interest and sometimes press parts or lift flaps to achieve effects such as sounds, movements or new images (8-20 months); show interest in toys with buttons and flaps and simple mechanisms and begin to learn to operate them (16-26 months).

Toddlers will play with a range of electronic toys with an increasing level of control. As adults, we can help them learn to verbalise what is happening and why. By playing with the toys ourselves, we can model their use.

22 to 36 months

Development matters: show an interest in ICT; seek to acquire basic skills in turning on and operating some ICT equipment.

As they get older, toddlers will not only want to play with an increasing range of electronic toys, but also with the everyday technologies that are all around them. For example, they will want to use the television remote control, scan items at the supermarket self-service checkout and switch the buttons on the dishwasher.

They will learn that they have control over the world around them and begin to understand how these technologies help us. They will also begin to use pretend technologies, such as a toy microwave oven or answerphone in their role play. This will help children to understand about the technologies, how we use them and how they work.

30 to 50 months

Development matters: know how to operate simple equipment.

Children will become increasingly confident in their use of technology. As adults, we can help children to develop this confidence and competence by allowing them to explore these technologies and work out for themselves how they work.

However great the temptation to show the children how something works, it is far better to support their learning with open-ended questioning such as ‘What do you think will happen if we press this button?’; ‘How do think we can…?’; and ‘What do we need to press to make this work?’.

40 to 60+ months

Development matters: complete a simple program on a computer; use ICT to perform simple functions, such as selecting a channel on the TV remote control; use a mouse and keyboard to interact with age-appropriate computer software.

By the time children are three years old, they will no doubt have begun to use a computer if they have had the opportunity to do so. Even though most children will very quickly learn how to use a mouse, it is important that we provide them with a small mouse that easily fits into their hand and is therefore easier to control – small laptop mice are ideal.

Safety tips

It is important that children stay safe when they are using ICT. Toys should be specifically designed for children of their age, and children should be supervised when using real everyday technologies including the internet. Safe use of ICT should form a natural part of the learning experience. Just as we teach young children road safety, we should also teach them e-safety.

The type of software that the children use is very important. It should be open-ended so that the child can make real choices about what they do and are therefore in control. A paint package is an ideal start, as the child can explore the different tools available while ‘painting’ a picture and at the same time learn how moving the mouse moves the ‘paintbrush’ on the screen. Closed programmes, which can be equated to colourful activity sheets, restrict the child’s creativity, and the negative response to an incorrect answer can lower the child’s self-esteem.

The internet can provide a good source of activities that interests the child, especially if it is linked to a favourite character or television programme. Children will also become increasingly competent at controlling programmable toys. They can start by using remote-controlled toys, which will help them to understand that by pressing the buttons on a programmable toy, they can control how it moves. It is important that the children use ICT both indoors and outdoors. Programmable toys can be used outside where the children can create an environment in which it moves using play mats, small-world figures or building blocks.