Child’s play: The role of technology in early education |

Child’s play: The role of technology in early education

Ruth Jackson Hall
Special to the Sun
Glenshire Elementary teacher Mary Berelson and one of her students, using technology together.
Courtesy photo |

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — There is a swirl of attention being paid to rapidly evolving technology and its role in early education. Research continues to bear out that young children develop and learn best through play. What, then, are potential impacts of technology on play-based learning?

Recent position papers of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Zero Through Three, and The Fred Rogers Center address this intersection of child development and children’s media.

The consensus is that there is no turning back. Young children are continually exposed to technology.

However, with new guidelines and intentionality, parents and teachers can integrate play and technology in healthy, productive ways.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood … when we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”
Fred “Mister” Rogers


The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s Early Learning Department is actively engaged in supporting best practices in early education through a monthly forum, the Pre-K K Articulation Team, in which Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers share observations and strategies that support school readiness and successful transitions from preschool into kindergarten.

Recently, Mary Berelson, a longtime K-1 teacher at Glenshire Elementary and a Google Certified Teacher through the Google Teacher Academy, was a guest speaker on the topic of technology for early childhood.

She shared how technology can be applied in exciting ways to real life experiences utilizing iPads and other web-based tools to support curriculum in the classroom.

Watching videos of her children utilizing technology, I was struck by how much fun they were having.

Mary was working with them on one of the most important developmental areas — Social-Emotional. As part of the lesson, children talked about different emotions they felt and how to identify and express them in healthy ways.

As an interactive tech-aided project, students were photographed with their faces expressing emotions of their choosing, such as surprise, happiness, and fear and they were voice-recorded explaining the emotion.

For example, one student stated, “Once, I felt disgusted when I opened my lunchbox and saw applesauce had exploded all over everything inside. Yuck!”

Mrs. Berelson merged the picture, the title, in this case “Disgust,” and the voice text and linked a QR Code (those square barcodes that link to some type of content like a photo, a sound bite, or web page) to each “emotion face” so that students could “read” recordings of their peers and, most especially, their own voices via any device that can read a QR Code.

These were also shared with parents. She created a poster and Big Book, which children continued to regularly choose as an independent learning activity, and which the teacher used to augment the school’s character development curriculum.

They were learning and engaged, using multiple tools, including technology and their own imaginations, while gaining skills to deal with the gamut of feelings all children experience.


Mary stressed the importance of making certain that usage of technology for the youngest children be accompanied with human interaction, especially speaking and listening.

Parents should use appropriate, ad-free apps WITH young children. That means that when a child is using an app, the parent and childe are talking about it and extending the learning — just like reading books with a toddler in one’s lap.

There are thousands of apps to choose from and it can be confusing to decide which ones to invest in, so searching online for suggestions from reputable sources like NAEYC, Common Sense Media or KinderTown is a good idea.

Some recommended paid apps are Montessori Crosswords, Handwriting Without Tears and Monkey Preschool Lunchbox.

Early educators can offer small group activities using iPads to increase engagement and extension and they can model using storybook apps with a group of children and then have children do it independently.


Provide creative, open-ended play opportunities with “loose parts,” such as blocks, hands-on materials and items found in nature.

Provide time for outdoor play and open-ended exploration.

Watch and do media together — children thrive and learn through relationships and social interaction.

Have rich conversations — new research shows that the “quality” of words is crucial to language development.

Avoid Background TV.

Limit Screen Media before bedtime.

Do not place TVs in children’s rooms.

Turn off media and digital devices during mealtime (parents, too).

Ruth Jackson Hall is TTUSD’s Early Education Coordinator. Mary Berelson contributed to this article.

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