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Waterford Institute Gathers Experts to Provide Congressional Briefing on Digital Initiatives for Young Children

A panel of education experts from across the country addressed Congress to be mindful of best practices and developmentally appropriate uses of technology with early learners when creating public policy. The Congressional briefing emphasized using technology to deliver quality learning content for every child, to enhance the human experience, and to provide professional development for teachers.

“Technology use with early learning allows students to be active, it allows them to be hands on, it allows them to engage in the world and empowers them,” said panelist Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “Properly trained, teachers can use technology to give a child control, provide an adaptive scaffold to ease the accomplishment of tasks, and as one of many options to support a child’s learning.”

See a full video transcript of Allvin’s statement here.

Sponsored by Waterford Institute, the briefing entitled, Digital Initiatives for Young Children: Moving Beyond Screen Time, reported to Congressional leaders and their staffs on the progress and challenges facing children and educators with the use of technology in early learning education.

Pointing out that technology provides some of the biggest challenges along with some of the biggest opportunities for early learning educators, Allvin said, “Technology has been a topic of controversy for a number years – decades even. Educators worry about getting it right, doing it well, and making sure it’s not taking over, but enhancing what we already know about educating young children and how they learn.”

According to the panel, first-grade reading scores are the No. 1 predictor of eighth-grade reading scores – ahead of even IQ scores.

“We love and respect technology,” said panelist Benjamin Heuston, Ph.D., president and COO of Waterford Institute. “The research clearly shows children must learn to read at an early age. Technology is a tool that is not meant to replace a teacher, but enhance teachers’ ability to help a child learn to read.”

See a full video transcript of Heuston’s statement here.

The panel stressed the importance of providing professional training among teachers and educators in addition to providing technology. Panelists also agreed parents must play a strong role in children’s early learning.

“All early learning requires parents to opt in,” said Heuston. “It’s not required. In every single case it is a choice that parents make to give children the right options to help them become successful.”

According to panelist Chip Donohue, Ph.D., and dean of distance learning and continuing education and director of the technology in early childhood center, Erikson Institute, “Relationships matter. The most important thing is the relationships and interactions children have with loving and caring adults.

“We need digital leaders, teachers, educators and child care providers,” he said. “We need to bring the education workforce into the digital age.”

Donohue made three recommendations for policy makers and advocates related to teacher preparation:

           
1. Early child educators need to recognize digital media literacy is essential literacy for teaching and learning in the 21st century.
 
2. Integrate digital media leadership across the continuum of early childhood preparation and professional development among teachers and leverage digital tools for parent engagement.
 
3. Use technology to teach educators how to use technology. “You can’t expect a teacher to be playful with a mobile device with a four-year old if the teacher has never been able to be playful with the device.”
 

See a full video transcript of Donohue’s statement here.

From enhancing a child’s digital learning experience to helping break the cycle of poverty, technology provides many benefits in an age of digital living and learning.

“Deploying technology for kids to get them reading, breaks the cycle of non-reading,” said panelist Kevin Custer, national board of directors of Autism Society of America and past chair of Autism Society of Colorado. “It can drastically increase the success of reading, math and science. It can break the cycle of poverty. It works, it can be done and it is important in kids’ lives.”

See a full video transcript of Custer’s statement here.

“Every child born today has been born into the digital world,” said Donohue. “We need to be positive and have the knowledge skills and disposition that will help digital children in the 21st century become digital learners.”

Sara Mead, principal of policy and thought leadership, Bellwether Education Partners, moderated the panel discussion during the Congressional briefing.

About Waterford Institute

Waterford Institute is a nonprofit research center that creates personalized cloud-based instruction through award-winning curriculum, content and assessment for children age PreK to 2nd grade. As a nonprofit, Waterford is uniquely focused on providing accessibility, equity and excellence for our youngest learners to position them for a lifetime of learning and success. For more information, visit www.waterford.org or call 801-349-2200.

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