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There is a vast amount of research linking early learning opportunities to childrens long term developmental outcomes as well as health, employment and well-being throughout the life course. Research by leading economists around the world has linked investment in early childhood development with economic prosperity, productivity and competitiveness for both the individual and society. The traditional setting for children's play has undergone major change in recent years as a result of the rapid diffusion of technology through all areas of social life. The impact of new technologies on children's play activities - whether in terms of toys that are derived from innovative technology or the leisure activities associated with information and communication technologies (ICTs) and has created a multimedia environment, full of rich opportunities and sometimes dangerous threats. The aim of this article is to explore and identify the various avenues that exist in the field of teaching a child through technological tools that can unfold the hidden potentials within a child for his/her development.
II. OBJECTIVES OF THE CHILD DEVELOPMENT PROCESS:
The followings are the major objectives
â€¢ To identify the kind of technologies present in the daily lives of children
â€¢ To identify the principle patterns of technology to be used by children within the age groups
â€¢ To examine the extent to which technology features in children's everyday play;
â€¢ To examine what technology and play means to children, parents and teachers.
III. IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY ON CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Elkind (2003)  challenges too simplistic an approach to investigating the impact of technology on children's overall development. He argues that researchers have been somewhat limited in their approach to this issue by concentrating on the impact of particular technologies when they ought to be considering the impact on child development of growing up in a technological environment. Features of this environment are what matter and it is through understanding these that researchers can focus on what impacts there may be. He identifies a number of features of this new culture,
it is speed-dominated,
a communication culture.
"Digital children", as he characterizes this generation of Western children, may be growing up disconnected from adults-teachers and parents alike. They are more advanced in their capabilities with technology and more responsive and flexible to new developments.
There are potentials and challenges to be considered. Such a culture will influence the language and concepts that children learn. The concepts of space and time have been altered by technology. It is suggested that the focus on speed that the developing technologies have brought to education and other aspects of society has created a hurried society where children may feel guilty about taking time off to play. Over the last 20 years, children in the USA have lost 12 hours of free time a week and 8 of those lost hours were once spent in unstructured play and outdoor pastimes (Elkind, 2003).
Experts are divided as to the value of technology to development. While some argue that it enhances intellectual development and fine-tunes a wide range of skills, others are more sceptical and are concerned that it limits social and linguistic interactions, constrains brain development by prescribing the parameters within which children operate and directly influences negative behaviours.
Quick to respond to the changing climate, the toy industry has identified children as a key consumer group. Even the very youngest child is a potential customer of the toy industry, exemplified by the development of 'lapware' and 'infantware' as 'educational' toys for parents. Such developments have been criticized by developmental researchers, who point out that many manufacturers have a limited sense of the developmental paths that children follow or pedagogical understanding of the way children learn (Elkind, 1998; Healy, 1998; Buckingham and Scanlon, 2002).
Hohman (1998) observes that many of the skills that these new software programs are designed to enhance skills (e.g. fine motor skills) are best developed through more informal and social opportunities, such as finger-painting, fruit picking and sorting various materials.
Haugland (2000)  considers screen-based technologies to be developmentally inappropriate for younger children given the extent to which we understand the importance of active participation in learning for young children. The close interaction with adults and peers is evident in traditional play is considered missing in play through technology and opportunities for conversation and dialogue, critical in early development, may therefore be limited.
While the educational applications of ICTs (information and communication technologies) have received strong parental support and the investment in a home computer is frequently justified as an investment in the future, actual usage does not always follow through. In the USA, following a three-year qualitative investigation, Giacquinta et al (1994)  concluded, not surprisingly, that most children use computers to play games and that the educational promise of technology could only be realized with strong parental supervision and close liaison with schools. In its leisure manifestations, technology, whether it involves playing games, surfing the net or instant messaging is closely associated with the young blood. There is an implicit assumption that growing up in the digital world involves a whole new set of media literacies or competencies, which include new orientations to learning, communication and social interaction. Hence, what Buckingham (2000) refers to as the 'new generational rhetoric' represents an idealistic image of children in the digital age, the first generation to benefit from growing up with computers, the Internet and video games.
IV. INVESTING IN EARLY CHILDHOOD LEARNING:
[A]. BUILDING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
Historically, early childhood learning programs have been rarely seen as economic development initiatives. However, the work of neuroscientists with respect to brain development in the early years suggest economic savings by investing in early learning programs, particularly in the area of social-emotional development. Furthermore, research by leading economists around the world has linked investment in early childhood development with economic prosperity, productivity and competitiveness for both the individual and society.
Longitudinal studies like the Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian project have yielded sound empirical evidence that high quality early childhood programs yield significant positive benefits for both the children and society in general. Both projects are models of comprehensive integrated programming that combined early learning, health, home-visiting, non-parental care, and parenting supports. The findings based on rigorous evaluation of these high quality preschool programs include substantial positive effects of early environmental experiences on cognitive and non-cognitive skills, achievement, job performance, and social behaviours long after the programs ended (Schweinhart et al, 2005; Masse and Barnett, 2002).
The Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian project which evaluated the effects of child parent centers located in or near public schools in the city of Chicago produced key findings that included significant higher educational attainment and lower rates of juvenile arrests (Reynolds et al, 2004).
Economists have begun to quantify the economic impact of investing in early childhood learning in both the short-term and long-term benefits to the individual and society.
As Figure 1 illustrates, Cameiro and Heckman (2003) calculate that the return on the investment in primary and secondary education is 3:1 whereas for early childhood learning programs it is 8:1.
Cunha et al (2005) calculated that a $1 invested in early childhood returns three times as much as a $1 invested for school aged children and eight times as much a $1 invested for adult education. Jacques van der Gaag, professor of Development Economics, Universiteit van Amsterdam, calculated that for every $1 invested in early childhood programs the return to society is $3. He linked the benefits of early childhood programs to health, education, and social capital.
Lynch (2004) supports growing global evidence that investment in early childhood programs easily pay for themselves over time by generating very high returns for participants, the government, and the public, "While participants and their families get part of the total benefits, the benefits to the rest of the public and government are larger and, on their own, tend to far outweigh the costs of these programs" (p.4). Fairholm (2009)  estimated a benefit-cost ratio of 2.54 to 1 for the Canadian early childhood sector.
Fig 1, Rates of Return to Human Development Investment
Across all Ages (Cameiro & Heckman, 2003)
There is a vast amount of research linking early learning opportunities to children's long term developmental outcomes as well as health, employment and well-being throughout the life course. According to the Canadian Council on Learning (2010), "Research indicates that the experiences during the first five years of a child's life have a major bearing on his or her future success in school, in the workplace, and many other aspects of a healthy, fulfilling life".
Research findings conducted over the past three decades have led to an understanding of the rapid growth of the brain in the early years and how stimulation acts as a catalyst for that growth. In The Early Years Study (1999) and The Early Years Study 2: Putting Science into Action (2007), Dr. Fraser Mustard of the Council for Early Child Development (CECD) and others have established that the experiences in the early years
1) Shape the architecture of the brain and
2) Set the developmental trajectories that influence lifelong learning, behavior, and health for individuals.
During the prenatal period and infancy, physical brain development occurs at a faster pace than at any other time in a person's development. Prenatal, the brain grows more significantly in size and function than at any subsequent stage of development. Neurons are produced at an astonishing rate and begin to form neural networks. Postnatal, the networks within the brain are transformed into a complex web of visual, motor, language, and socio-emotional connections.
The basic brain cells exist at birth; hence a baby is born ready to learn. However, brain development and the capacity to learn are heavily dependent on early life experiences. During the first three years of life, brain connections develop quickly in response to outside stimulation. The brain's ability to physically change its structure and function (neural plasticity) occurs in response to external experiences. All parts of the brain change as a result of experience but not all parts of the brain are equally plastic. Parts that are highly plastic at birth have a narrow window of time and changes that occur in that window can significantly impact later plasticity (Diamond & Hopson, 1998; Hyman, 1999; Wolfe & Brandt, 1998; Bertrand, 2001; Jameison, Bertrand, & Ibrahim, 2008). By the time a child reaches three years of age, the brain has tripled in size (Kolb & Whishaw, 2006).
The Council for Early Child Development (CECD) founded by Dr. Fraser Mustard in 2004 has provided an abundance of research studies which illustrate that the early years are a period of opportunity where children's experiences establish a powerful neural foundation for later development. The more experiences provided to babies, the more opportunities they have to permanently establish learning pathways in their brain. The physical wiring and sculpting process of the brain is not merely dependent on environmental stimulation, but is also dependent on the timing and quality of the stimulation.
The graph in Figure 2 developed for the Council for Early Child Development (CECD) based on Nash (1997), The Early Years Study, (1999), and Shonkoff & Phillips, (2000), shows the sensitive periods in early brain development for the first seven years of a child's life.
Fig. 2, Sensitive Periods in Early Brain Development
Research findings around neurological development and the impact of early childhood experiences can be summarized into the following core concepts:
â€¢ Experiences in the prenatal period and the early years shape the architecture of the brain (physical)
â€¢ There are sensitive periods in early brain development
â€¢ Brain development is life-long, cumulative and integrated
â€¢ Brain development influences life-long learning, behavior and health
â€¢Young children's relationships with significant adults in their lives impact on brain development
â€¢ Nurturing experiences and environments promote healthy brain development
â€¢ Young children's experiences are critical to healthy brain development and capacity to learn
â€¢ Early learning experiences need to encourage child-directed Discovery
V. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICE (DAP):
Developmentally appropriate practice is a phrase coined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). DAP is based on a philosophy of education that spouses an idea that children are active learners who construct their own knowledge by interacting with peers, teachers and other adults, and materials. It describes teaching techniques that identify and foster the developmental needs of children, both individually and in groups. It is culturally sensitive, inclusive, and emphasizes the developmental level and the learning style of the whole child in terms of physical, cognitive, social and emotional needs.
An Overview of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)
Approach to learning
â€¢ A child-centered approach to learning
â€¢ The focus is on the learning needs of the child
â€¢ The learning environment is set up to facilitate the development of skills in all domains and to allow for independence
â€¢ It is based on the child's prior knowledge, interests, and needs
â€¢ Learning happens naturally when conditions are optimal
â€¢ Play is the primary vehicle for learning
â€¢ Opportunities are provided to allow the children to interact with a variety of concrete materials, equipment and supplies
â€¢ The daily routines include large blocks of time to allow children to explore activities arranged around the room and engage in individual, small group and large group activities
â€¢ Uninterrupted time is provided to allow the children to explore
â€¢ Assessment of children's learning and development is used in order to plan, implement, and evaluate learning experiences that have been provided.
Role of adults
â€¢ The adult's role is that of facilitator and enabler
â€¢ Adults provide active support to children as they engage in child initiated play and experiential learning
â€¢ There is a balance of child-initiated and adult-guided play
â€¢ Adults promote developmentally appropriate practices and eliminate those that are not
â€¢Teaching techniques include asking open-ended questions, modeling, demonstrating, scaffolding, and direct instruction
â€¢ Materials support children's development in all domains
â€¢ Parent information and professional developmental opportunities strengthen understanding of the principles of DAP
â€¢ Materials, methodology, and activities are aligned with a child's development.
â€¢ Resources to support the delivery of programs/services encourage exploration and discussion (open-ended)
VI. REALIZING THE VISION OF THE STRATEGY:
The provincial early childhood learning strategy is intended to provide young children and their families with community based, universal and accessible programs and services that support early childhood learning opportunities. The success of the strategy will be reflected in the extent to which young children in our province develop the physical, social-emotional, self-help, language and cognitive skills necessary for success in school and throughout life.
Monitoring the implementation of the strategy at key intervals is essential to inform planning and to evaluate its effectiveness. The success in realizing the vision of the early learning strategy is dependent on the ability to provide early learning opportunities that support the province's young children and their families. Collaboration and partnership among families, communities, government and other stakeholders committed to providing the best possible early learning experiences for young children. Below are two examples of instruments used both nationally and internationally for the purpose of monitoring children's overall development.
[A].The Early Development Instrument (EDI)
The Early Development Instrument (EDI), developed by D. Offord and M. Janus at McMaster University, Canada, is a population-based tool used to gauge children's development at the Kindergarten level. Even though questionnaires are completed for each child, the data can only be interpreted at the group level. The checklists are completed by Kindergarten teachers for each child in the class after knowing the child for approximately six months.
It is a holistic measure of children's development across five areas: physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive development; and communication skills and general knowledge. The data can be used to establish a baseline estimate of the state of early child development in Kindergarten for any given group of children. It is not a measure of individual child development or a diagnostic measure. The data is aggregated at a group level for the purpose of community mapping. It informs community stakeholders, schools, families, and governments how the programs, policies and resources provided support young children and help them to make informed decisions on how to build and strengthen early childhood development. It has been administered throughout Canada and internationally.
[B].Early Years Evaluation
The Early Years Evaluation (EYE), developed by J.D. Willms and J. Beswick, New Brunswick, Canada, consists of two instruments: the EYE-Direct Assessment (EYE-DA) and the EYE-Teacher Assessment (EYE-TA).
The EYE-DA is an individually-administered direct measure of developmental outcomes for pre-school children. The EYE-TA is used to assess developmental outcomes for children in Kindergarten. The EYE-DA assesses children's development in four areas: awareness of self and environment; cognitive skills; language and communication; and gross and fine motor development. Results for the EYE-DA are generated for each student and are shared with parents.
A class profile report is generated for the EYE-TA to be used by the classroom teacher. EYE measures can be used to assess learning needs of individual children prior to entering school, upon entry, or shortly after school entry and to provide a baseline for assessing learning gains. However, it is not used to diagnose specific learning problems. Results can also be used to monitor early childhood outcomes at a school, community or province level.
Parents and technology play a critical role in their children's early learning as their first and foremost teacher. Initially, parent's role early in their child's life is to provide warm, sensitive and responsive care-giving that will promote a sense of belonging, security and healthy attachment. From birth and throughout the preschool period, parents and other caregivers play a vital role by providing a safe and stimulating environment rich in adult guided experiential play experiences. Parents by using latest teaching technology can play a vital role in their children's learning by comforting and responding to children's needs for exploring the world with a view to explore the inherent potential of their child.
The types of interactions that parents have with their children and early experiences lay the foundation for children's early learning and all subsequent learning experiences. This in turn, has a tremendous impact on individual's long term health, well-being, and success in life. The importance of early childhood learning experiences in shaping children's development throughout their lives is well documented.
An attempt has been made to provide a better understanding of how children learn in the early years and the importance of quality early learning opportunities. Government should create awareness specifically in the society to enhance early childhood learning opportunities, by supporting parental involvement to create a smooth transition to school for all children by focusing on future social implications of the technology based growth. A well planned early childhood learning environment that is supportive of the individual needs of all children and incorporates inclusive practices is optimal. A provincial early childhood learning strategy based on current research and best practices should focus mainly on the followings:
â- Children learn best in play based environments.
â- Supporting parents and families during the early years is critical.
â- Building on the interests, strengths, and needs of communities to support early childhood learning is necessary to provide community based, universal and accessible early childhood learning opportunities for children and their parents/caregivers.