Dr. Orly Lotan
The internet as a learning environment for young children
The array of tools enabling young children to consume media contents is growing rapidly, providing the developing child with many opportunities to experience fascinating new environments. Numerous studies have shown that the exposure of children to online information can be highly beneficial to their development, if and when it is conducted under adult supervision that determines both duration and content. Such exposure, adapted to the individual child’s age and ability, can even enhance her/his skills and abilities beyond those acquired in the regular kindergarten setting. Moreover, in these times of uncertainty, when children must stay at home with no date set for going back to the educational frameworks, online learning can help alleviate a range of hardships experienced by preschoolers: social isolation, a break in the daily routine and anxiety about the unexpected upheaval in a previously dependable world. Provided on a regular basis, online activities can offer an important, meaningful alternative, delivering contents and enhancing development at the cognitive, emotional and social levels.
The numerous ways we have today for consuming media, found in every home and every educational framework, together with the sharp rise in their technological quality, enable us to ‘pack’ a vast number of websites and large quantities of information into the child’s user experience. In this way, young children are exposed to contents that would have been totally inaccessible to them otherwise. On the other hand, this vast range of possibilities, alongside the overwhelming amount of info, can be detrimental to other capacities: emotional availability, attention, play activities and imagination, as well as the ability to focus on specific tasks or topics. In addition, as every modern-day parent knows from an abundance of studies and publications, too much screen time is not recommended, with evidence discovered for a plethora of resulting problems: behavioral and developmental setbacks, ADHD, obesity, sleep disorders and even heart disease. This evidence has generated considerable opposition to using screens and the internet as a developmental tool for children.
However, well-defined and closely mediated learning through the internet, especially at home, is not included under the definition of ‘passive screen time’. Quite the contrary. It can be most beneficial, contributing to the child’s development and allowing her/him to be active with regard to the educational contents, with actual screen time limited and measured by the parent. In this way, online learning can provide children with educational opportunities, promoting the development of abilities such as: problem solving, critical thinking, playing in a nonjudgmental environment, language skills, knowledge acquisition, integration of information, investigative skills, and even social skills (According to Haughland, 2000). Dr. Ofra Nir-Gal and Dr. Talia Mor (1999), who studied the internet’s impact on learning, demonstrated that for young children, mediation by an adult in a suitable learning environment contributes significantly to the child’s learning and skills. Their study indicated that guided activity in various multimedia platforms facilitates meaningful learning and structures the knowledge acquired by the learner.
Accordingly, using the internet for remote communication with kindergarten teachers, storytellers and other adults with whom the child bonds after several online sessions, becomes very significant for her/him. It must be noted that for real learning to take place, several conditions must be met:
• The child’s age – The online program is age-adapted, and therefore the duration of sitting in front of the screen varies from short (for younger children) to longer periods of time (kindergarten and beginning of elementary school).
• Level of attention – based on the norm for the child’s age, together with every child’s individual needs.
• Contents – Age-adapted contents are delivered in different ways, including: speech, animation, contact with participating figures, activities, music, graphics, etc. Every topic is communicated through various channels, under the supervision of professionals specializing in the presentation of contents to preschoolers.
• As the child grows, she/he becomes more adept at operating the various media, enabling her/him to be less passive and more actively involved in both the technical aspects and the delivered content.
The present venture emphasizes online learning delivered by outstanding, handpicked kindergarten teachers, providing meaningful contents via creative learning modes – all age-adapted and tailored to the children’s needs. The facilitating adult (the teacher) forms an interpersonal bond with every child, similar to the child’s connection with favorite culture heroes known from the media – such as actors, TV hosts, cartoon characters etc. Moreover, cartoon characters become more real when the child can touch, see and even smell them. As feelings for these characters develop, the child becomes more receptive to other contents, messages and values delivered by them through the internet. The Virtual Kindergarten also gives children a structured daily routine, providing direct access to educational and developmental contents. Participating children both absorb and produce contents, thereby enhancing their sense of success and self-image.
Dr. Orly Lotan
Senior Educational Psychologist
Diagnosis & Therapy for preschoolers, school-age children and teens