Using tablets in the early years

As the use of tablets and touchscreen technology soars, it is now estimated that 71% of children have access to a tablet at home and 1 in 10 3- to 4-year-olds own their own device. Some experts argue that too much screen-based technology can hinder children’s development, while others believe it has a positive effect on learning outcomes for young children if used in the right way. Elizabeth Walker looks at how early years practitioners can get the most out of this new technology in their provisions.

Technology in the EYFS

It is widely recognised that technology is now embedded in children’s everyday life and to some extent they must learn to use it from an early age. Indeed, one of the early learning goals in the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework is that children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and school and that they can select and use technology for particular purposes.

The use of tablets in early years provisions is becoming increasingly popular, and recent research by the Literacy Trust suggests that 75% of practitioners thought it was important to use technology from an early age as it will be central to children’s future lives. The report also states that two out of three early years practitioners would like to increase the use of tablets in their provision.

The Literacy Trust recommends that engagement with technology achieves the best outcomes when practitioners support children’s interactions with it so that it:

  • is a co-operative activity shared with another child or an adult

  • involves doing things together and gives opportunities to take turns

  • provides opportunity for explanation, elaboration and imagination

  • includes activities that involve investigation, exploring and solving problems.

Uses and activities

Tablets are often associated with being used as a solitary gaming device in the hands of a child but they can be used for a wide range of activities in an early years provision including:

  • stories

  • songs and rhymes

  • mark making

  • filming

  • photos

  • educational apps and games

  • accessing resources

  • information and research

  • assessment

  • information sharing and communication with parents.

Tablets can therefore be used for a range of creative, interactive and class activities as well as supporting practitioners in their planning, research, assessment and information sharing.

Benefits

Some experts argue that too much early exposure to screen-based technology can be detrimental and children’s attention spans and levels of concentration seem to be shorter than ever before because of overexposure to electronic devices. This may be true of many children who are left unsupervised using tablets and other kinds of screen-based technology. However, there are many benefits to be gained when using tablets within the environment of an early years provision.

  • Tablets can be used to support teaching and learning across all areas of the curriculum.

  • Tablets can be used to support children who have special educational needs. They provide a whole new means of interaction, offering opportunities for multi-sensory experiences and learning.

  • Tablets are portable and easy to handle for young children compared with PCs and laptops and enable wire-free teaching and learning.

  • Not all early years providers have the financial resources to purchase tablets but they are cheaper than other options such as PCs and laptops.

  • The interactive nature of tablets engages most children, making some areas of curriculum more accessible.

  • Communication with parents is easier, such as taking photos and emailing parents.

  • Staff can use tablets to record and save observations and assessments of children.

  • Styluses specifically designed for young children enable colouring, mark making and writing on tablets as alternative to using fingers.

E-safety and tablets

Some parents may be concerned about their children accessing inappropriate content while using tablets at an early years provision. Providers need to ensure that they have an up-to-date e-safety policy in place which covers tablets and share this with parents and staff. Key areas to consider when developing an e-safety policy include:

  • privacy and security settings

  • age-appropriate filtering of content

  • monitoring use of online activity

  • use of a recognised internet provider

  • use of recommended firewalls and antivirus apps

  • password protection

  • email use

  • photographs and videos

  • use of social networking sites

  • data storage and security

  • e-safety training for staff

  • e-safety lessons for children

  • an acceptable usage policy which establishes responsibilities and expectations for behaviour while accessing the internet, email or related technologies both within the provision and beyond

  • sanctions for the misuse of technology and breach of policy.

Good practice

Introducing tablets in an early years provision can be a daunting prospect and good planning is essential. Practitioners should consider the following key areas of best practice before implementing this technology in their provision.

  • Provide training and technical support for all staff members.

  • Develop a clear policy for technology and e-safety ensuring that it covers the use of tablets.

  • Communicate with parents highlighting the benefits of new technology and reassure them that their children’s safety is paramount.

  • Choose educational apps and content carefully to ensure that they support relevant areas of the curriculum.

  • Consider if any additional classroom accessories are needed such as screen protectors, covers, stands, chargers, styluses, keyboards, secure storage units.

  • Establish a routine of cleaning screens daily as touchscreens are a breeding ground for germs, especially in the environment of a provision where devices are being shared.

  • Ensure children are supervised when using tablets.

  • Check there is sufficient wifi coverage.

  • Consider if any changes need to be made to insurance policies.

Further information

  • Practitioners Perspectives: Children’s Use of Technology in the Early Years, National Literacy Trust, March 2014.

  • Teach with Tablets is a tablet technology specialist for education providing useful information for schools, parents and other stakeholders.

  • Techknowledge for Schools is an educational charity which supports practitioners integrating mobile technology in schools.

  • UK Safer Internet Centre offers e-safety tips, advice and resources to help children and young people stay safe on the internet.

  • Kidsmart is an award winning practical internet safety programme website for schools, young people, parents, and agencies, produced by the children's internet charity Childnet International.