Last week, students at the summer boot camp I conducted here at Li’l Sprouts Montessori got to work with different technologies. From building robots and circuits, to using cameras and a solar oven. They also used one of the oldest ‘technologies’ that tend to be overlooked – pencil and paper.
But besides motors, and learning the software (to program the robot below) students also learned about engineering design, using toothpicks to build a bridge and a tower.
They did a fair amount of writing, maintaining their journals each day. They worked on essay writing, a news story, and poetry.
On the final day I introduced them to the solar oven, and Tanu helped them bake cookies. One batch got done in just over 30 minutes!
Today was the last day of school at Li’l Sprouts. Since my school closed yesterday I got a chance to do some science projects with Tanu’s students. Amazing how pre-schoolers engage with circuits and electricity!
I also got to do year-end group pictures, as a few students move up to kindergarten.
Odd question. Perhaps a few years too late, but…
Would you want your children to be in a school that’s all digital? Let me paint a few scenarios.
- Should teachers stop using handouts and publish lessons to be read, watched or listed to on digital devices?
- Should schools have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy?
There is no shortage of wonderful, free technologies that stimulate collaboration, and empathy. I have even used some of them in my classes! However, I also know that young people are perfectly capable of learning, creativity, discourse and group work without the help of a shiny object. We hear that ‘Digital Natives’ are wired for learning differently. But are they?
And then there’s the brain development side.
- There are also the unintended consequences of too much screen time, warns Dr. Aric Sigman. He warns of “permanent damage to (children’s) still-developing brains”. Dr. Sigman is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Read this piece published in April this year by Psychology Today. This Is What Screen Time Really Does to Kids’ Brains.
A new book about digital natives, Screenwise, calls for more mentoring not monitoring. But we tend to assume too much about digital natives. I like the point made by Jessica Laura (in a blog post at CommonSense.Org) that calls for ongoing, explicit training of digital literacy – and not just ‘screens.’ She says:
People say, “The child’s a digital native,” but that has nothing to do with whether or not they know how to use technology well; that just means they’ve grown up with it. Just because I grew up speaking English doesn’t know I mean everything about English; we still go to English class for 13 years of our lives.
Digital Citizenship and digital literacy is a fast-updating field. What people in their forties and fifties ‘know’ about digital is probably ancient wisdom. It may not happen in the next school year, but here’s a question for parents and teachers: What would you do if your school goes digital?
My wife runs a school that will probably never go digital. For good reason – it is a Montessori school, a place where, happily, you can’t replace such tools as sandpaper letters, sound boxes and pink towers. But before we know it, toddlers may be needing to know a thing or too about what it means to be a digital citizen – when they get home to their parents’ smart devices!
Besides being a technology writer, I am also the husband of a Montessori teacher, and we are truly concerned about the effect of tablets and smart phones.
My wife has taught very young children for about 27 years, and we have begun to observe disturbing real-time effects in kids for whom hand-delds have become proxy toys and baby-sitters. These screens are being outsourced by parents to take on the other aspects of parenting – stimulating thought-processes, imagination, language development etc.
Perhaps she will not say it in so many words, so as co-director of her Montessori school, I think it is time I did.
You may hate what I have to say, but for all of you young parents who start your day by giving your kid a screen at breakfast “just to keep her quiet,” or let a child ‘play’ with a smart phone on the way to school, you are damaging or impairing his/her development. This is not just our opinion. This is based on ongoing observations, and there is plenty of new research on the subject.
Pediatricians and brain researchers have been telling us for years that real life not its digital approximation is essential to neuron development. Issues such as attention, cognitive delays, and “decreased ability to self-regulation” aka tantrums, are common problems parents seem to face. Research is pointing to these being related to over-stimulation by technology. Many call for urgent ‘media diets’ with kids.
Check with your pediatrician, or do some research. Don’t just Google “toddlers and smart screens” but observe a child’s social behaviors when there are no screens, vs soon after a child has spent an hour on one.
Below is a quick summary of some of the arguments.