Technology: Guidance for Families

Guidance for 3s through 6/7s

The following recommendations comprise what the School for Children believes to be reasonable guidelines regarding child and family use of technology. The goal of the site is to give families a developmentally appropriate foundation for technology use at home and common ground for communicating with other families. We respect that all families may choose to engage children differently with technology based on their values. These recommendations are intended as proactive guidance for developing positive media habits and not stringent policy.

Just as families make value-laden decisions around the family diet and the importance of sleep routines, adults are responsible for educating themselves on a range of other topics that impact healthy growth and family life.  One essential topic is determining the limits of daily screen time.  Screen time includes any media - interactive or passive, done on a device such as a smartphone, handheld gaming device, tablet, laptop, computer or television.  Research on childhood brain development indicates that early use of technology impacts the brain in a variety of ways. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen media time to 1 to 2 hours a day, and recommends discouraging screen media in children under the age of 2. We agree with no screen time under the age of 2 and recommend extremely limited exposure (from none to up to 1 hour) of screen time supported by an adult with children ages 3 and up.  Many Lower School families choose no screen time for their children and we fully support this.  Our anecdotal observations are that children who have a high level of screen time often exhibit scripted themes for play, require more explicit teaching of skills related to persistence and can have shorter attention spans.

Additionally, we encourage families to be sensitive to and have conversations about the use of technology during playdates.  It is helpful to discuss media/technology rules in the home and negotiate differences ahead of time. 

As a community of early childhood educators, we choose to model technology use thoughtfully and purposefully as one of many tools to support classroom learning. This philosophy is shaped by our belief that young children grow best when engaged firsthand with the world around them.  We are advocates for the value of primary life experiences mediated by play.  We have chosen to outfit our Lower School classrooms with a camera, tablet, and computer to be used judiciously in the following ways:  for the purpose of documenting visual experiences in school or on a field trip; for recording everyday transitions to review later in helping to solidify routines and simple tasks; or for referencing facts and information online, guided by adults.  The 6/7s classrooms are in the process of being equipped with an Interactive Whiteboard for the purpose of modeling instructions, organizing data and providing visual displays of images and abstract concepts, which prompt discussions and further exploration in class among children. The purpose of using any technology in our Early Childhood classrooms is to enhance learning.  We regularly assess the value and effectiveness of technology tools to reflect best practices. 

We acknowledge that children live in an increasingly digital world and are aware of adult use of technology.  We encourage parents to be thoughtful about their own media habits.  Family rules such as “no devices at the dinner table” convey that together time is about eye contact and communication.  When adults model good technology behavior, children are more likely to emulate that behavior.  Conversely, research shows that when adults are distracted by devices, children feel compelled to fight harder for your attention and can appear increasingly frenetic and dysregulated.

For families who choose to allow screen time with their young children, please keep in mind that there are vast differences in the impact of each depending on a variety of factors including: the purpose of use, the developmental appropriateness of content, the level of opportunity for active engagement, the demand for sustained attention, and the opportunities for creative thinking. Viewing shows with educational value along side of a parent (i.e. Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood) is not the same as having a child engage independently with a digital game or app. If you are unsure of the educational value of a show or game, check Common Sense Media for educator and age level ratings.  We strongly caution against online games, unsupervised use of devices, and regularly using screen devices to entertain your child when she/he has to wait.  Children develop better self-regulation skills through books, drawing, I-spy games and other engaging offline activities.   There is a discrepancy between the pace of digital technology and the time it takes to explore the concrete world.  Children need to get comfortable with being still and practice having time to reflect.  All of which allows the brain the space required to process and consolidate information.

We do not recommend children have their own social media profiles or email (Facebook, Twitter, etc), though older family members may. Be mindful of your child's exposure and the ways your young child is portrayed online and avoid leaving a digital footprint that may have unintended consequences, both now and later in life.  We highly encourage families to have ongoing conversations about what is being posted on social media to ensure that everyone involved is comfortable.

Families who choose to allow more screen time should reference Guidance for older children, 7/8s and up.