How Digital Technologies Support Wellbeing and Inclusion in Early Education
In current times we have seen an increased interest in the importance of early STEAM education within the early education sector, highlighting the value of supporting educators in implementing STEAM teaching strategies (Magennis, 2011; McClure et., al. 2017); while further enhancing the emerging concepts which underpin the necessary skills to mould our younger generation into resilient, competent and emotionally regulated adults.
In today’s increasingly diverse society, early education settings are likely to include children from a wide range of linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
While this diversity can enrich the learning environment, it can also present challenges for educators who must find ways to support the wellbeing and inclusion of all children.
Digital technologies can provide a valuable tool in this effort, by providing language support, fostering resilience, and promoting inclusivity.
Language barriers can be a significant challenge for children who are not fluent in the language of instruction.
Digital technologies can support language and facilitate communication between children and their educators.
For example, language translation apps can translate verbal or written communication between children and their educators, enabling them to communicate more effectively, thus supporting inclusion and development.
Personal experience shows that young children will engage, become curious and independently attempt to solve problems when provided with STEAM activities that support emerging concepts.
Communication skills are enhanced; peer interactions and peer guidance (Vygotsky, 1978) become more evident when children are involved (Siraj Blatchford, 2003; Magennis 2015; Whitebread, 2015).
Digital technologies can also provide language support through interactive learning experiences.
Language learning apps and games can provide a fun and engaging way for children to learn a new language.
Interactive whiteboards and other digital tools can also be used to create interactive language learning activities that are both educational and fun.
In addition to language support, digital technologies can also be used to build resilience and promote inclusivity for children from diverse backgrounds.
For example, social-emotional learning apps can teach children coping skills and emotional regulation, which can help them manage the challenges of adapting to a new culture or language.
A further consideration is that concentration amongst young children is approximately 2.5 times their age, so for a child aged 3-4yrs their ability to concentrate would be on the scale of between 7.5mins and 10mins; however, when engaged in technology-based activities, these same children demonstrate extended concentration of up to 35 – 45 mins, and sometimes more (Magennis, 2015).
iPads/tablets are also beneficial in supporting digital storytelling with children, promoting imagination and language development, and working in small groups with other children helps to develop concepts of empathy, social interaction and peer guidance, supporting the theories of Vygotsky and Rogoff.
A combination of tools allows for thoughtful teaching strategies and children can try alternative ways of engaging, solving problems together, modifying work and share experiences.
Technology Supporting Inclusion and Wellbeing Through Play
Therefore, it can be determined that technology as a resource in early education, supporting play, rather than replacing it, can expand children’s thinking, communication, ability to problem solve and think critically and help to develop creativity and self-expression.
Through these interactions children learn the importance of body language, develop concepts around social cues, for example, listening, pausing, sharing, and acknowledging emotions; create an awareness of other “Theory of Mind” and empathy, supporting not only their own emotional wellbeing but raising awareness of others wellbeing also.
One of the favourable attributes of technology supporting wellbeing and a sense of achievement and success is the immediate response the child receives when engaging with a game (or activity), encouraging the child to engage further and thus enhancing learning (Magennis, 2011).
One possible explanation is underpinned by the theoretical framework of Isaacs (1952), suggesting that through the introduction of new concepts during play, children will re-engage with the activity as they do not see failure, “you cannot fail if it is a game”; thus these interactions supported by technology are helping to build resilience, confidence and enhance emotional regulation in young children.
A further theoretical stance supporting this is that of Bandura (1986), intrinsic reinforcement, whereby a child will more readily repeat an experience if they feel good about that experience, building a sense of pride, achievement and self-worth, and supporting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and self-actualisation (1970).
Celebrating Diversity through Technology
Digital storytelling and media creation tools can also be used to promote inclusivity and celebrate diversity.
Children can use these tools to create their own stories and media that reflect their cultural backgrounds, helping to create a sense of belonging and pride.
For refugee children or those from minority groups, digital technologies can also provide a way to connect with their communities and maintain their cultural identity.
Social media and online communities (age appropriate and monitored), can provide a platform for children [or families] to connect with others who share their experiences and cultural heritage.
It is undeniable that in today’s world, digital technologies and STEAM concepts have become an integral part of our lives.
From education to entertainment, everything has gone digital.
As indicated above the impact of these technologies is becoming more visible in the field of early education.
With the help of digital technologies, educators can now provide better support for the wellbeing and inclusion of children from diverse backgrounds, but also in terms of supporting children with additional needs.
LEGO Technology as a Resource to Support Inclusion
For many people, STEAM is quite a daunting concept; thinking about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths can be off-putting as those initial concepts have never fully been embedded for some of us.
Furthermore when we mention technology very often our minds immediately jump to computer screens, iPads, TV and other such related resources; however, the term technology encompasses much more than the above, when we consider technology in the educational sense, we are engaging with a field of study that investigates the process of analysing, designing, developing, implementing and engaging with learning materials which nurture an imaginative and creative mind; therefore including resources other than iPads and computers, and including LEGO Bricks and other such resources.
Research shows that LEGO products are perfect resources for supporting children who need a little more time to grasp certain concepts (Magennis, 2022); not only because children see this as play supporting Isaacs underpinning philosophies, but also because children are provided with the opportunity to explore and experiment with LEGO, to create new things, and solve problems independently supporting resilience, wellbeing and positive self-esteem.
LEGO Enriching Peer Interactions and Collaboration
Engagement with LEGO has long since been proven to enhance and build vocabulary, with robotics introducing the concept of left, right, under, over, sharing, supporting and working in groups, promoting an inclusive and supportive environment for children.
LEGO builds on the child’s natural curiosity and introduces the concept of spatial awareness while raising an understanding of the language we engage with daily.
Children learn by investigating, attaching wheels/cogs, and checking out the moving parts to see how they work.
LEGO supports peer interactions and guided participation (Vygotsky) and encourages children to work together in a supportive and collaborative way.
LEGO Therapy Enhancing Wellbeing and Inclusion
LEGO Therapy is a form of play therapy that involves using LEGO bricks to improve communication, social skills, and emotional regulation in children.
In LEGO Therapy, children work together in small groups to build LEGO models based on a set of instructions.
Each child in the group has a specific role to play, such as an engineer, a supplier, or a builder. Children are required to communicate with each other and work collaboratively to complete the model.
LEGO Therapy has been found to be particularly effective in promoting social interaction and communication skills in children with autism.
It helps these children develop social skills by providing a structured and supportive environment for interaction with their peers.
Furthermore, LEGO Therapy effectively reduces anxiety and improves self-esteem in children with special needs, with research showing that children improve in social interaction, motivation and communication with their peers, particularly evident in children with ASD (Le Goff, 2004; Owens et al., 2008).
LEGO and Technology – The Future
UNICEF and the LEGO group, funded by the LEGO Foundation, have formed the Responsible Innovation in Technology for Children (RITEC) project to consider creating a digital world that prioritises wellbeing (UNIFEC, 2022).
The project examines how we, as adults and educators, can ensure we support children’s wellbeing, including their creative wellbeing, while they engage with these technologies.
Findings from this report suggest that play in early education is a crucial aspect of well-being, nurturing empathy to boosting resilience and contributing to happiness and contentment (Hoicka et al., 2018); with further research identifying the characteristics of play to include numerous forms of digital play (Marsh et al., 2020).
There are many other resources and ways of engaging with technology during play.
Technology for supporting music, for example; music has a magical way of uplifting us, calming and grounding us in the moment, and being an excellent resource to enhance conceptual development.
Give a child access to music through technology; they can develop their likes and dislikes, explore and experiment with new sounds and language, develop the concept of sound, the ability to notice new things, watch, repeat, and conform to social rules, waiting for their turn, understanding practices related to rhythm and empathy for others involved, and so much more.
There has historically been a succession of moral panic around the impact of technology on young children.
Dudeney et al., (2013) correctly suggest this moral panic happens each time society is introduced to something new, supporting similar claims of Postman (1989); in his critique of disappearing childhoods and pointing out that childhoods change and develop alongside society, and we need to accept this.
Jenkins (2015) claims such divergent beliefs need to change. There is a need to move on critical claims seeing the iPad as a babysitter, for example, and instead focus on technology as a positive, enhancing the child’s experience significantly and interactively while preparing them for their future life in a technology-rich environment.
Innovative and resilient children are the way of the future, and as adults who work with these children, it is the role of the parent, practitioners and educators to ensure that we provide these children with the resources they need to be successful adults.
Free Webinar: Discovering the Potential of Digital Technologies and STEAM for Inclusive Special Needs Education and Early Years Development
Portobello Institute will hold a free educational early years webinar entitled “Discovering the Potential of Digital Technologies and STEAM for Inclusive Special Needs Education and Early Years Development” on May 17th 2023.
The webinar is free to attend, you can register here.
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