04 November, 2021 | Posted by Marguerita Magennis

STEAM in Early Childhood: Digital Natives

STEAM in Early Childhood

In recent years there has been a change in understanding regarding young children and technology.

I have long since been an advocate for technology in early education, believing that our children as the citizens of the future should be encouraged to use technology in different aspects of their lives.

Children of today are moving towards a future which is undetermined, we don’t know what types of jobs will be available to them when they are adults, how society will have changed, but one thing is certain these children will need skills to make them sustainable, such as creativity, the ability to think critically, and work in groups and as a member of a team; they will need to have a flexible approach to work, be willing to change and move with the time.

Innovative and resilient children are the way of the future without a doubt, 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.

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Growing Up in a Digital Age

The child in todays society accepts technology as the norm, it isn’t something new for them; they are what are often called “digital natives” having grown up in a society where technology is used throughout everyday life.

McBlain et al (2017) describes the digital child as a child living in a time and culture, in a society where technology is readily available and used widely for a variety of things in their lives.

Teichert and Anderson (2014) indicate that due to societies immersion in technology, we find children engaging from a much younger age, while further studies query the suitability of such involvement for very young children; or are we doing them a disservice by not working with them, teaching them how to use technology effectively and appropriately.

Technology like any other tool or resource is only as good as the person behind it and if the resource is abused, then there will be problems.

A recent European Study showed technology as being a valuable part of a child’s life, when included as part of a balanced engagement of activities including toys, imaginative play, outdoors, and face to face social interactions (Chaudron, 2015).

Yet we still hear and read concerned reports about the amount of screen time children are subjected to, the impact of technology on time spent outdoors, increased levels of obesity, iPads being used as babysitters, rather than serving as a valuable learning tool for young children.

Children as young as two years old and younger have been reported to use iPads and mobile phones for several hours a day (Childwise, 2015); while older children spend up to 10.5 and 11hrs per week online (Ofcom, 2014).

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Digital Media as a Resource

There has been a significant change over the years in terms of technology as a resource.

When I recall my own experiences in primary school (a while ago now), the teacher would wheel in the TV once or twice a week at a set time, to share with us some insightful programme to reinforce a concept which had been introduced earlier in the week.

Even the TV has developed since then and we now have Smart TV’s with built in internet, recording facilities and the ability to replay different programmes if and when we require them.

Of course now in education we see much more than the TV, we have computers, iPads, interactive whiteboards, in primary and secondary education, and while there is more interaction now from the children, often what we see is a tokenistic effort, with the teacher using a whiteboard to present a lesson, or children sharing a computer resource for a specific reason.

More recently we see similar engagement in preschool settings, but this still remains limited to a few for numerous reasons:

  • Firstly there is still a stigma surrounding allowing very young children to engage independently with technology, for fear that we disrupt their natural development and ability to interact and engage with others.
  • Secondly often there is a lack of clear understanding or knowledge as to what these resources can bring to the classroom and to play opportunities for children; particularly if the child is allowed to engage independently, and the learning and reinforcement which comes with this experience. This can be due sometimes to our own inability at using technology, and coming from the digital immigrant generation, which would be consider almost technology illiterate (by our children) I can understand some of the apprehensions shared by teachers and educators.
  • Finally and I suppose an important point, there is also cost and the fear that if an expensive item is broken it then has to be replaced etc, or perhaps funding technological resources is something which the budget just doesn’t stretch to replacing.

Read more about introducing technology during play here


Chaudron, S. (2015) Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology: A Qualitative Exploratory Study across Seven Countries. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Childwise (2015) The Monitor Pre-School Report: Key Behaviour Patterns Among 0-4 Year Olds, London: Childwise

Dudeney, G. (2013) Digital Literacies, London: Routledge.

Jenkins, H. (2015) Tap, Click, Read: An interview with Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine (http://henryjenkins.org).

Magennis, M. (2011) ‘The Impact of ICT on pre-mathematical concepts in early years
children’, Belfast: Stranmillis.

Magennis, M. (2015) Enhancing Literacy Concepts: Digital natives and Cultural Tools, in
US – china Education, 5(9): 610-622.

McBlain, S. (2017) Contemporary Childhoods, London: SAGE.

McClure, E., Clements, D. H.,Guernsey, L., and Levine, M.H. (2017) STEM starts early:
Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in Early Childhood,
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

Preston, C. (2021) STEM education in Early Childhood, in Campbell, C., Jobling., W.,
Howith, C. (ed) Science in Early Childhood, UK: Cambridge University Press. Siraj –Blatchford, J., and Whitebread, D. (2003) Supporting information and communication technology education in early childhood, Buckingham: OUP.

Stephen, C., Plowman, L., and McPake, J. (2010) Growing up with technology: young
children learning in a digital world, London, UK: Routledge.

Yelland, N. (2010) Knowledge building with ICT in the early years of schooling, He kupu:
The World 2(5): 33-44. Whitebread, D., Kuvalija, M., O’Connor, A. (2015) ‘Quality in Early Childhood Education: an international review and guide for Policy makers’, UK: University of Cambridge.

About The Author

Marguerita Magennis Ph.D. MA. BA Hons, Course Coordinator Masters in Early Childhood Studies & Lead Lecturer BA Hons degree Early Childhood Studies at Portobello Institute. Read more on her blog Dr M's Thoughts here.

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