Why would an organization promoting education in young children actually recommend screen time in the classroom?
According to the very annoying computer-generated response you get when you send them feedback on the new draft of their position on technology in the classroom, the National Association for the Education of Young Children is an organization trying to improve education:
Founded in 1926, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the world’s largest organization working on behalf of young children from birth through age 8 and promoting high-quality early childhood education.”
Yet their 18-page rather dense, ridiculously circuitous, and dismayingly verbose drafted policy statement from 2011 actually suggested that early childhood educators incorporate screen time (computers, television, video games, and other digital media) into their curricula.
“The fundamental premise of the position statement is that technology and interactive media are tools for teachers and administrators to use in early childhood programs,” they write in the draft report.
My grandfather was the first person on his block to buy a television. It was a Freed Eisemann. His friend and neighbor, Morris Wigler, got it for them. My dad was excited. They owned the Rolls Royce of TVs, even though it kept breaking. The TV was a small screen mounted in a big cabinet. A solid piece of furniture. This entertainment in a box heralded the future, and people thought watching television would make Americans smarter! More sophisticated! More knowledgable!
Maybe some educational television does help Americans learn more about the world and be more educated. I don’t know. I’m skeptical.
So much of what’s on TV is glam violence and overly sexualized young women (both the cartoon and silicon-enhanced variety). Even supposedly objective television news glorifies violence, sexualizes women, and exaggerates everything.
And it’s indisputable that screen time is helping make our children fat, sluggish, uncreative, and unable to entertain themselves.
Our children suffer from nature deficit disorder and a lack of vitamin D because they spend so little time outside (and use too much carcinogenic sunscreen when they do, but that’s a rant for another post.)
According to a Kaiser report, the average 8-year-old spends 7 hours and 38 minutes using media. An 8-year-old child in America is in front of a screen (or maybe in front of two or three screens since so many kids multi-media task) every single day.
They don’t need television or computers, or video games, or iPods or iPhones or any other digital technology.
They get too much already, outside of school.
What do preschoolers really need?
I think the Waldorf educational philosophy (which is criticized by some but applauded by others because it discourages teaching children to read before they’re ready) offers the best ideas for early childhood education.
In Waldorf programs preschoolers get:
- Plenty of time for imaginative play.
- Plenty of time outside exploring and learning about the natural world.
- Loving caregivers who listen and talk to them.
- Open-ended stories told to them.
- Toys that encourage open-ended play like scarves and wooden blocks.
- Bread-baking and other cooking projects, including grinding whole grains by hand, learning to cut vegetables (yep, my 4-year-old was using a knife in his Waldorf-inspired preschool), and make-your-own delicious nutritious creations.
But the NAEYC’s draft policy suggests we should forgo this kind of early childhood education in favor of its proposal, their emphasis, that “Early childhood programs have an obligation to use technology to bridge the digital divide.”
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, headed by Susan Linn, an instructor at Harvard and the author of the excellent book, Consuming Kids: The Hostile Take-Over of Childhood, is campaigning against mandating screen time and other technology in the classroom.
Here are excerpts from their advice sent in a newsletter to subscribers, forwarded to me by a reader (thank you Natalie!):
NAEYC draft’s recommendations are troubling. The statement:
- Undermines major public health efforts to reduce screen time in order to help curb childhood obesity and other child wellness problems. It does not support the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of no screen time for children under two and limited screen time for older children. In fact, reducing the amount of time children spend with screens isn’t even a stated priority.
- Prescribes that screen technologies should be included in all early childhood settings, regardless of the age of the children served or type of program. Even play-based and outdoor preschools will be expected to incorporate screens.
- Provides no objective criteria or guidance to educators about whether or when to incorporate screens into their classrooms.
- Does not address the growing problem of screen-based commercialism in preschools.
Parents, educators, and anyone who cares about early childhood education should be aware that the best plan for our children’s health and happiness includes:
- No screen time for children under two and limited screen time for older kids. The less time your child spends on screens the less likely he will become overweight or obese and the healthier he will be.
- No screen time in preschools ever. Screen time takes time away from activities with proven benefits—like engaging in creative play or interacting with adults.
- An end to the commercialism that is so rampant in screen media for children. Relentless advertising to children is harmful to their psychological health.
The 15-page NAEYC final report is now available as a PDF. Read the full report here.
Are you worried about your children’s education? Do you think they’re getting too much screen time at school?
Published: May 27, 2011
Last update: January 30, 2020