Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Hi-tech lessons for 'digital natives'

With technology-savvy children as young as 3, parents and teachers need to get over their fears, says US expert.

Brian Puerling's 4-year-old nephew had surprised his parents by suggesting they Skype him and give a video tour of their hotel on a recent trip away. Photo / Supplied
Brian Puerling's 4-year-old nephew had surprised his parents by suggesting they Skype him and give a video tour of their hotel on a recent trip away. Photo / Supplied

Children as young as 3 will benefit from being taught about Twitter and other social media, New Zealand's early childhood educators have been told.

Chicago-based Brian Puerling, a technology adviser to Sesame Street, is in New Zealand and addressed the Early Childhood Council's annual conference over the weekend.

He told the Herald that parents and teachers needed to get past fears about technology and young people.

Not doing so ignored the fact that today's children were "digital natives".

His 4-year-old nephew, for example, had surprised his parents by suggesting they Skype him and give a video tour of their hotel on a recent trip away.

And 3- and 4-year-olds at his school were using apps to check the weather before deciding whether to wear a jacket outside.

"These things are powerful for us to consider, in that children are learning that we can use these devices to learn and communicate. These things weren't around when we were young."

Mr Puerling, author of Teaching in the Digital Age, said much angst about children and technology stemmed from experience with television, but "not all screens are created equal".

"A TV screen doesn't invite interconnectivity, but a touch screen invites another experience, where the child can be in control of it and creating something."

Technology needed to complement other forms of learning, not replace them, he said. For example, a trip to the beach could be followed by a video conference with a guest explaining marine life.

And while finger-painting could be mimicked on a touchscreen, the real experience would always be more beneficial.

Mr Puerling, director of education technology at Catherine Cook School, which takes students aged 3 to 13, said it was important to equip children for a technology-filled world.

His school has a "Tweet Tree" on to which students pin their own paper "tweets".

"The idea is for them to start thinking about that [concept] - once their tweet goes up, everyone can see it.

"That's something we need to get children thinking about, and we need to do it in ways that are concrete."

After Mr Puerling's address to Early Childhood Council members, some centre owners asked how to get around the affordability issue.

Similar concerns about a "digital divide" between high- and low-decile schools and their communities have been raised by the Secondary Principals Association.

Mr Puerling said the issue was a real one, but steps could be taken to minimise it.

Solutions could include government, parent and charitable donations.


US educator Brian Puerling's advice:

• Technology should be used to complement, not replace, traditional learning.
• Children today are "digital natives" so parents need to overcome fears of technology.
• Preschoolers benefit from learning the public nature of social media.

Toddlers tune in to the digital era:

The music goes on at the same time each morning at Maree Moselen's childcare centre.

One of the boys, aged 18 months, heads straight for the iPod when they get in, turns it on and selects music.

"We were stunned. We were moving it back so he couldn't reach it, but he'd just climb up on something."

The 80 children at two Next Generation Childcare centres on the North Shore have access to iPod Touchs, iPads, laptops and other equipment.

Mrs Moselen said every child, whatever their home experiences, quickly learned how to use the devices, to the extent they often led the teachers.

The centres ran a daily blog, enabling parents to see videos and other work, which demonstrated the technology was being used to complement learning, not distract or babysit.

"It's not just, 'who did you play with today?' Now it's, 'I saw you in the sandpit with so-and-so, I liked what you built'."

- NZ Herald

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