A surprisingly large proportion of the technology used in kindergarten involves one child sitting in front of a computer, drawing or playing games, while a group of other children stand around, watching. This information comes from researcher Margrethe Jernes of the University of Stavanger.
‘Where is the learning element in this?’ asks the researcher. She has interviewed children and adults in kindergartens, asking how they use technology and what they think about it. She was also a “fly on the wall”, observing interaction between children, and between children and adults while the children were using technology.
NOT TECH SAVVY
Today’s kindergarteners were born into a technological world. The vast majority have access to devices and the Internet at home and in kindergarten.
All the same, little is known about how technology is used in kindergarten, or about how children and adults experience the use of technology. Jernes wanted to learn more about this. She is the first in Norway to earn her PhD on the topic. The researcher has studied three kindergartens and she knew ahead of time that they had made great strides in using technology. All the children in all age groups in these kindergartens got a chance to experience technology, the researcher confirmed. This mainly involved the use of stationary computers, located either in a corner or along a wall in the unit.
Other digital technology used by the kindergartens included cameras, printers, scanners, camcorders and the like.
‘Today’s kindergarteners were born into a technological world.’
BOYS MORE LIKELY TO PLAY COMPUTER GAMES
Some kindergartens used photography actively. For instance, staff took digital cameras with them when they took the children hunting for anthills in the woods. When they got back, the adults uploaded the photos to a computer, then printed them out and posted them on the board. Then the children told stories about what they had seen and experienced on their outing. The researcher noticed that this action triggered a lot of activity and cooperation among the children.
Nonetheless, a surprising proportion of the time when technology was used involved drawing or playing games on the computer. This was especially true for the boys.
Only one child at a time can draw or play. But while only one child plays, others are attracted to it, so they stand around and watch. When one child has control of the mouse and plays a game or makes a drawing, this child is the only one creating any movement on the computer. This means the child is alone, even though many others may be sitting or standing nearby.
‘Even though other children stand around watching, and waiting their turn to draw or play, the child using the equipment says that it feels like he or she is alone’, Jernes points out.
According to her, computers may therefore have the opposite effect of what one wants children to learn in kindergarten, that is, social intelligence.
‘On the one hand, while it is a good thing to learn to wait your turn and to control your desire for instant gratification, are seeing things from a different perspective and learning empathy really encouraged in a digital situation?’ asks the researcher.
‘It is not necessarily interaction, just because many children crowd together around a computer. Interaction implies more than just to being together,’ she remarks.
”It is not necessarily interaction, just because many children crowd together around a computer.’
In the competition to get to play games or draw on the computer, children take note of who is the owner, and who is in control.
‘There were times when the children excluded each other. This was not bullying in the sense that some children were intentionally left out. It was just one of those things that happen in all the excitement over the technology,’ Jernes adds.
The language used by the children in these interactions, was sparse. There were numerous comments and commands such as “take that!”
There were usually no adults nearby to act as instructors or supervisors when the children played or made drawings on the computers.
‘HOW GREAT IS THAT!’
One of the kindergarten teachers the researcher interviewed, exclaimed ‘How great is that!’
‘Kindergarten staff feel they lack expertise with digital games, and that they have learned very little on the subject during their training. Those I talked to said there were few specifics about this in the Framework Plan for Kindergartens, and they felt they were largely left to their own devices’, Jernes divulges.
Many of those the researcher talked with felt they were in a tension zone between adhering to governance documents and making their own choices and defining their own target areas.
They also experienced tension in the practical realities of the situation. To what extent should activities that include technology be supervised? How much should children be allowed to engage freely in learning, exploring and testing?
DARE NOT TO CHOOSE TECHNOLOGY
The researcher found that the employees who felt most secure and who had the most digital skills themselves, were able evaluate this critically and decided not to choose technology in situations in which there was no particular reason for doing so.
The researcher’s recommendation is that the adults in the kindergarten should play a larger part in activities involving technology than what many do today. They must not use these devices as part of unstructured play, but rather be cognisant of the methods that can be used to achieve a goal.
‘Remember also the sheer range of potential activities that should be taking place in a kindergarten. Modern technology is marketed and promoted by many, but these activities should not be encouraged at the expense of traditional kindergarten activities like experiencing nature, playing with clay or colours’, urges Jernes.