Identifying Quality Digital Resources for Early Learning
4.5.12 | Specialized e-books, apps and tablets marketed toward young children are ubiquitous staples in toy stores, and it can be difficult to determine the difference between an effective learning tool and the gratuitous use of digital technology to entertain a child.
To help parents and educators sort through the choices, the Fred Rogers Center unveiled its new early learning environment, called Ele, to catalog digital resources that support early learning and development in children from birth to age 5.
As the site explains: “When it comes to finding high quality media for children to use or to provide guidance and support for the adults in their lives, there seem to be an overwhelming number of options. Ele brings together many of the best free trusted materials from around the web, including videos, games, e-books, music and other interactive tools. Ele also provides a platform to connect and discuss with others who care about issues affecting young children.”
The portal includes three main sections: Activities, Let’s Talk and My Ele, a free account system that allows users to organize the site’s resources around their own needs and create unique “Play!Lists” that can be shared with fellow users.
The Activities portion serves as a digital library of over 100 games, videos, apps and e-books that reinforce positive learning and literacy development. Ele’s Let’s Talk is an online community where educators and family members can discuss developmentally appropriate uses of media and related issues affecting young children.
Wired Magazine’s Geek Dad expert Daniel Donahoo was impressed with the new tool, calling it “one of the best quality resources on digital media literacy for young children that I have seen.”
Donahoo also reiterates the importance of parent-and-child interaction, in addition to using the right technological tools. He wrote: “How do we foster our children to be open, to be questioning and engaging with the world in a way that is exploratory and full of wonder? […] We can give them a love of knowledge and language and improve their vocabulary by reading them books when they are still in the cradle. We can not shut them down when they begin to ask “why?”, but encourage them to keep asking “why?” every single day. We can count with them, and take them outside when they are 18 months old and show them the stars and the universe and get them thinking about what might be beyond, and then beyond that. We can do so much.”
Gabrielle Strouse, an e-book expert and assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, supported this idea in a recent interview with The New York Times.
“The most important thing is sitting and talking with your children,” said Strouse. “Whether you’re reading a book, whether you’re reading an e-book, whether you’re watching a video. Co-interacting, co-viewing, is the best way for them to learn.”
We are seeing some evidence that parents expect the e-books to do it all and are stepping back from the engagement with their children.
– Lisa Guernsey, New America Foundation
New York Times writer Thomas Fitzgerald debated the use of e-readers and iPads in the classroom and said that it will take years before we can truly understand the benefits or setbacks of learning to read from a screen.
Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, said that spontaneous interaction, such as conversations about how the story relates to the child’s own life or open-ended questions about what happened, changes with e-books and is sometimes lost altogether.
“We are seeing some evidence that parents expect the e-books to do it all and are stepping back from the engagement with their children,” she said.
Check out Ele for yourself here.
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