New CCFC Guide to Help Early Educators Navigate Digital World

Facing the Screen Dilemma Separates Hype
From What Children Really Need

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood:

“Early childhood educators face increasing pressure to incorporate screens into their classrooms,” said CCFC’s director, Dr. Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe. “The sheer volume of screen technologies marketed as educational, and even essential, for young children is overwhelming. It’s crucial to separate the hype from what research tells us young children really need.”

Smart boards. Smartphones. Tablets. E-books, apps and more. The rapid influx of new screen devices and software poses a special challenge for the early childhood community. A unique offering from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Alliance for Childhood, and Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE) provides help and support for childhood educators grappling with how best to support young children’s growth, development and learning in a world radically changed by technology. Packed with relevant research and practical tips, Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early education is the first guide designed to help early educators make informed decisions about whether, why, how, and when to use screen technologies with young children.

Facing the Screen Dilemma arrives at a time of heightened concerns about the amount of time children spend with screen media. New technologies haven’t replaced older ones; kids use digital games and apps in addition to television and video, not instead of them. Time spent with screen media is at record highs for children of all ages. And excessive screen time is linked to childhood obesity, sleep disturbance, and poor school performance. Two brand new surveys from the Pew Internet and American Life Project and Common Sense Media highlight widespread concern among teachers that children’s constant use of digital technology hampers attention span and the ability to complete difficult tasks.

In addition to a much-needed overview of the research on young children and screen time, Facing the Screen Dilemma offers practical considerations and concrete advice for centers using screen technologies, as well as support for centers resisting pressure to abandon screen-free policies.

“Keeping an early childhood environment screen-free is a valid and pedagogically sound choice,” said the Alliance for Childhood’s Joan Almon. “Developing children thrive when they are talked to, read to, played with and given time for creative play, physically active play, and interactions with other children and adults. It’s really OK to say the iPad can wait.”

For all early childhood programs, Facing the Screen Dilemma recommends screen-free settings for children under 2. The guide encourages educators to work closely with parents around technology issues and to understand how children’s exposure to screens at home affects classroom performance and behaviors.

“Educators using screens with young children should be intentional about their choices and determine beforehand exactly how a given technology will expand or enhance classroom goals for children,” said Professor Diane Levin of TRUCE and Wheelock College. “It’s important to choose screen activities carefully, establish rules and routines for their use, and provide clear boundaries so that screen time doesn’t crowd out vital classroom activities.”

Facing the Screen Dilemma can be found at http://commercialfreechildhood.org/screendilemma.

Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School

Testing of Kindergartners Is Out of Control, Says Children’s Advocacy Group in New Report

Photo credit: (ccl) Woodley Wonderworks

Photo credit: (ccl) Woodley Wonderworks

Studies show standardized tests and test prep are now daily activities in many kindergartens. Why? Molly Holloway, a mother of twin kindergartners in Bowie, Maryland, can’t understand why her children must take standardized tests every month in math, reading, social studies, and science.

“One of the teachers has told me that the kindergarten curriculum is what used to be the first-grade curriculum,” Holloway wrote. “What evidence do we have that this pushing is beneficial? While some children can handle the pressure, others cannot. One of my daughters struggles to keep up and hates school.”¹

A mother in Illinois writes, “In order to prepare kids ahead of time for the state tests, hard core curriculum must start in kindergarten. Our kids are not actually getting smarter. The scores are not increasing. And the rates of children with anxiety issues are increasing rapidly.”²

Recent studies in New York City and Los Angeles confirm what these and other parents have observed: standardized testing and test prep have become daily activities in many public kindergartens. Teachers say they are under pressure to get children ready for the third-grade tests. The 254 teachers surveyed in the studies said they spent an average of 20 to 30 minutes per day in test-related activity.

The findings are documented in a new report, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School (pdf), released on March 20, 2009 by the nonprofit Alliance for Childhood. The authors, Edward Miller and Joan Almon, say that kindergarten testing is “out of control.” (Available is an 8-page summary of the report (pdf), including recommendations for action)

High-stakes testing and test preparation in kindergarten are proliferating, as schools increasingly are required to make decisions on promotion, retention, and placement in gifted programs or special education classes on the basis of test scores. In New York City, for example, kindergarten children take a standardized I.Q. test to determine whether they qualify for “gifted and talented” classes. The city is also implementing a plan to test kindergarten, first-, and second-grade children as part of schools’ performance evaluations. The test scores are used to assign letter grades, A to F, to all of the city’s public schools. The grades are then used to determine rewards and punishments, including cash bonuses for teachers and principals and whether principals will be fired and schools shut down.

“Rigid testing policies do not make sense in early childhood education,” states the Alliance for Childhood report. “Standardized testing of children under age eight, when used to make significant decisions about the child’s education, is in direct conflict with the professional standards of every educational testing organization.”

Young children are notoriously unreliable test takers. They can do well one day and poorly on the same test on another day.

“A major problem with kindergarten tests is that relatively few meet acceptable standards of reliability and validity,” says the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “The probability of a child being misplaced is fifty percent—the same odds as flipping a coin. … Flawed results lead to flawed decisions, wasted tax dollars, and misdiagnosed children.”

The National Association of School Psychologists agrees, saying that “evidence from research and practice in early childhood assessment indicates that issues of technical adequacy are more difficult to address with young children who have little test-taking experience, short attention spans, and whose development is rapid and variable.”

It’s not just parents who are up in arms over the tests for tots. Anthony Colannino, a Waltham, Massachusetts elementary school principal, is upset that his kindergartners are now required to take fill-in-the-right-bubble tests. “Now we’re all the way down to 5- and 6-year-olds taking a pencil and paper test,” he told his local newspaper. “My students and others across the state are being judged on reading material above their grade level.”³

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