Even as schools continue to invest heavily in technology on campus, we are still staring down what experts call the “device gap,” where students from lower-income backgrounds don’t have the same digital access as their middle class peers. For students and classrooms, that divide can have real impact. In a recent survey, 67 percent of teachers in transitional kindergarten through third grade say they have at least on one occasion not assigned homework that requires technology or digital media because they think their students do not have access at home—a percentage that increases in schools serving more low-income students.
That statistic was one takeaway from a survey we at the Center for Early Learning at Silicon Valley Community Foundation conducted last year with parents and educators on the use of technology with young children.
For the survey, which was conducted online, we collected information regarding young children’s use of technology specific to home and school settings, and also explored the connection between home and school technology use. Complementary to the above findings, 40 percent of parents report that home technology challenges make it hard for their children to keep up with their peers in school. This perception is especially common among Hispanic parents.
In addition to the online survey, we held a series of conversations with parents throughout Silicon Valley to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities parents face in using technology with young children. We heard over and over again from parents that teachers are the most trusted source for advice on the use of technology with their children:
“I trust both our pediatrician and teacher, but I trust our teachers more. They spend more time with my children.”
“If my child’s teacher told me an app/program was educational, I would trust her.”
Parents clearly see educators as their partner in identifying educational digital media for their children; yet our survey highlights that only one out of ten educators often recommend digital media to their students for educational purposes.
Below are five tips for educators, created from the input we received during the community conversations with parents, that can help foster the home and school connection on technology use with young children:
Share how you are using technology and what digital media you are using in the classroom. Whether it is through an email, as part of a parent-teacher conference, a newsletter or homework packet, let parents know how their children are using technology in the classroom. For example, are you using technology during whole-class instruction or small groups? Are you using a particular app or program to complement academic curriculum or to encourage creativity or social-emotional skills through cooperative play?
Recommend educational apps and programs that children can use at home to complement what is being done in the classroom. In doing so, it is important to consider recommending programs that, once downloaded, no longer need Wi-Fi or cell services in order to run, which can help address the most common tech challenges in the home, such as poor internet service or data limits.
Partner with other teachers in your school or across your school district to host a parent-teacher learning exchange on the use of technology with young children. Parents know and understand that technology is continually evolving and teachers will not have all of the answers on which tech device or app is developmentally appropriate. That said, you and your peers are their most trusted source for advice. Provide opportunities for parents to learn how you and your district select appropriate content, which can, in turn, help parents make better and easier decisions about digital media selection in the home.
Avoid only using messages that “scare” parents on the harmful effects of technology use with young children. Rather, use a script that focuses on how parents and children can “learn and live well” in today’s current landscape of ubiquitous technology.
Connect parents to the local library. Local libraries are not only great places to increase a family’s access to technology—with many libraries offering laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots for checkout—but more and more librarians understand that their role has expanded to include being a mentor for families on how to navigate the use of technology with young children.
The Center for Early Learning at Silicon Valley Community Foundation offers a number of additional recommendations for educational app developers and distributors, school districts, policymakers and investors, which can be found, along with other key findings from our study, in our report, “Lost Connections in a World of Connectivity.”