Children today are considered digital natives that have been born into a world of new technologies. Unlike some of their teachers, who may be new to this world and considered digital immigrants, children learn, know and enjoy the functions and benefits of technology. Technology however, should not replace the teacher or the outdoor play space; rather be considered a tool that supports children and their learning options. Before children come to early learning programs, they may already be experienced in digital interaction and bring knowledge about computers and other devices to the environment. Negative stigmas associated with technology integration are based on research conducted more than ten years ago. Newer research supports young children in having exposure to technology in various circumstances (Dietze & Kashin, 2016) if it supports their explorations and adds new knowledge to their areas of interest. Therefore, early learning teachers today are revisiting the conversations about technology to see how it can expand and support children’s experiences in the outdoor learning environment. Consider the photo below? What do you see? How do you think the teachers’ incorporating technology in this moment?
Think about this. One of the teachers is sharing the photo of the frog on social media to advocate and promote the positive benefits of children engaging with animals in a caring way. The other teacher is photographing the frog close up to show the children later. The child knows that her time with this little tree frog is short. She must return it to his home. Later, she can examine the photos with her teacher and share her wonderment about the frog. Here she is releasing the frog.
Technology is not a substitute for outdoor play or any type of hands-on experiences. By beginning with direct experiences such as when children discovering the frog, technology is used to assist children in identifying it’s name and characteristics. Children can make their discoveries and learning visible to families by sharing their findings with families digitally. Authentic and meaningful learning begins with the experience, and technology is introduced as a tool to support children’s interest in and exploration of a topic such as learning more about the birds. Technology is a tenet of play; it maintains the principles of constructivism, experiential learning theories, and the progressive education movement (Dietze & Kashin, 2013).
Using technology with children in their active play can change, for the better, the way they engage in play and exploration as well as their overall learning experiences (Dietze & Kashin, 2016). There are numerous applications that are appropriate for children to learn more about nature. Expanding outdoor play experiences with technology will support children’s opportunities to gain new knowledge, skills and learning.