by Jamie Siebrase
In an age where toddlers use iPads more efficiently than adults, it’s hard not to
question the impact superfluous gadgetry has on our youngest constituents.
While the question isn’t novel, it’s important. Jeanann
Johnson, director of Emmanuel Methodist Preschool, 2700 S. Downing St., calls
for critical thinking. “It’s a fast-paced world, and I worry we haven’t slowed
down long enough to reflect on what technology is doing to our society.” To
learn more about Emmanuel Preschool: 303-758-1697 or empdenver.com.
I asked local experts to reflect aloud on
screen time. The opinions were surprisingly varied. At one end of the spectrum
are play-based learning, Montessori advocates. These
educators largely oppose screen time for young viewers. Lisa Armao, director of Montessori School of Washington Park
(MSWP), 320 S. Sherman St., discusses early brain development. Research
indicates a tremendous amount of brain development occurs between birth and age
five; the frontal lobe – that portion of the cranium regulating emotions,
impulse control, and delayed gratification – is the last area to develop.
According to Armao, this part of the brain is
susceptible to fast-paced imagining. For information about MSWP: mswp.org or 303-722-7708.
Johnson and Armao
think free play fosters learning and agree it’s okay for children to be bored.
“If you don’t have technology available, kids will find something else,” says
Johnson. Children at Emmanuel and MSWP are rarely bored. Educators create
various “stations” for children to explore. Armao’s
most popular station is dubbed Practical Life. “These are things we did with
our kids 50 years ago,” she says. “Folding, pouring, measuring, dusting –
children aren’t in their homes much, so they don’t do these activities.” Simple
activities parents take for granted are meaningful to children, offering a
sense of purpose and community.
According to Armao,
children who watch television struggle with concentration and are less
interested in independent problem solving. Armao
attributes this behavior to instantaneous answers delivered passively through
the push of a button. Claims that children will fall behind without technology
exposure seem dubious. Armao didn’t keep a television
or computer in her home when raising children. Today, her son is a graphic
designer who “practically lives on his Mac.” Proffers Armao,
“In this high-tech world, it’s impossible to fall behind.”
Of course, most children today grow up in
households with screens. Susan Denny, retired Cory Elementary School teacher,
notices children have learned to “tune out” as a result of being inundated with
background chatter from electronics. She speculates this
trait likely filters into the classroom, where teachers’ voices are
A moderate, Denny believes technology has
its place and recommends Starfall, Enchanted
Learning, PBS, and Baby Einstein. She even cautions against complete
abstinence. “If your children never see technology, they might become overly
Plenty of educators have a liberal tech
stance. Helen Andresen, CEO at Iliff Preschool and
Kindergarten, 4140 E. Iliff Ave., thinks children are
going to get abundant screen time because this is where education is headed.
For information about Iliff Preschool: iliffpreschool.com or 303-757-3551.
director of Primrose School of Lowry, 150 Spruce St., agrees technology is the
future. “It’s practically a requirement that schools have technology in the
classroom,” Meyer says. She thinks using a mouse and keyboard are critical
skills youngsters must develop. At Primrose, technology training starts at
three. By kindergarten, students are learning PowerPoint. For more about
Primrose: primroseschools.com or 303-341-7000.
executive director at Art Students League of Denver (ASLD), 200 Grant St., says
technology has significant benefits. ASLD finds balance by incorporating
technology into some classes. One popular offering is Claymation. Students create
with clay, take pictures of their sculptures, then
make clay animation videos. For information about ASLD: asld.org or 303-778-6990.
middle school teacher at Denver Academy (DA), 4400 E. Iliff
Ave., calls technology “a blessing and a curse.” Last year, iPads
were made available for all students. While readily available internet is mostly positive, some adolescents inevitably
abuse the privilege. In addition to iPads, there are
SMART Boards in every classroom, and most kids have sophisticated phones. “Our
job,” says Hegele, “is to model proper technology
usage for the children.” For information about DA: 303-777-5870 or denveracademy.org.
Nearly everyone interviewed questioned the
impact technology has on social behavior. “Interacting verbally, making eye
contact, and reading body language are skills that are made better through
practice,” Johnson says. “How to discern nonverbal communication is important;
the inflection you pick up from a voice creates a reality about what the other person
is communicating,” notes Hegele. Because human
interaction is crucial, Denny recommends watching programs with your child if
you do turn on the tube.
Something else everybody agreed on? Nothing
beats outdoor play. “Play is the right of every child,” reminds Andresen. She
encourages parents to be fully engaged by turning off cell phones. Denny likes
straightforward activities that provide complex tactile and sensory
stimulation, such as simple art projects, play dough, building with blocks or
Legos, swinging, and digging dirt. Andresen uses puppet play to teach lessons.
If your daughter comes home from preschool angry because a friend hit her, put
a puppet on each hand, and let the characters interact, acting out more
In an age of wireless and portable
everything, are we disconnecting long enough to truly connect? While there’s no
simple answer, one thing is certain: If you haven’t done so already, it’s time
to have a conversation with your partner, the grandparents and other caregivers
– and maybe most of all, with yourself.