Early Childhood / family media literacy / Healthy Media Choices / Media Literacy Education / Parents / Teachers

Possible Marriage: “Medical” and Media Literacy Approaches to Technology in Early Childhood

Reading “Media Literacy In Early Childhood: Inquiry-Based Technology Integration” by Faith Rogow sharpened my understanding of the different paradigms that govern thinking about technology in early childhood education.
First, the fundamental difference between what Rogow calls the “medical model” based on the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Media Literacy Educators model is this: the educators are just that. Their interest and work revolves around the child’s productive interaction with media, which means that their focus is the (child + media). The elements of a child’s day: for instance, learning about tomatoes, are filtered through media so as to make the child an active participant in media use. The healthy relationship with media as an tool for active learning is the focus.

The pediatrician or psychologist, on the other hand, puts the (child) at the center of focus. Their questions about media revolve around how it impacts the social, emotional and intellectual development of the child.

Though these perspectives are rooted in different roles in relation to the child, they are not mutually exclusive.

The Possible Marriage:
Media Literacy Educators utilize tools and techniques that address some of the concerns of the health professionals and parents. The medical professionals offer their informed judgement about balance with free play, etc. These two paradigms do not need to be in conflict. In my view, the melding of the approaches will give appropriate support to both. Here’s some of what would need to happen, which I will flesh out further in the future:

Disciplined use and clear definition of the word “children”: describe exactly what age group is being addressed. The developmental needs of newborn through 2 years are inherently different from older toddler and preschooler, which is why the AAP “discourages media use by children younger than 2years. Pediatricians should discuss these recommendations with parents.”

Integration of Media Literacy Education and the health information into Parent Education: When Rogow says that “it makes sense to begin media literacy as early as possible,” I agree. That means educating the adults who live with the child. Healthy Media Choices uses techniques around the “Competencies and Outcomes” that Rogow cites, the skills needed to be literate in a “digital world.” The emphasis is on awareness and reflection with the goal of joyful family life that includes intentional use of media in ways that are age appropriate for the young child. The parents’ critical thinking about media use and production can be shared with the child. This becomes a powerful model from the first teacher. Critical thinking about MLE in very early childhood leads to the question: What is the rush? If ML educators supported the pediatricians’ recommendations (which revolve around home use of commercial media, not educational technology), what would be lost?

I can tell you what I think would be gained: mutual respect, the ability to work together toward the common goal of healthy, literate children, and a lot less confusion for parents and teachers of the very young.

MLE and Medical Model integrated into training for Childcare providers and Preschool Teachers
Those who care for children in group situations see the whole array of influences and questions around media use. Experienced early childhood professionals, while excited about the potential in MLE, are concerned about behavior that they see as mimicking media characters, self-talk that demonstrates preoccupation with media narratives and instances of moments of opportunity for sensory learning or creativity that are interrupted by internalized concern with media dramas (See Stacy’s Story under “About Us”). Their training must include MLE, but also vigilance about balance of media use with free play and strategies for working with parents around commercial media use with the child’s interests in mind. That conversation is best when it incorporates critical thinking and information from medical as well as MLE sources.

My own critical thinking, as one who ran a children’s center, works with parents and teachers of young children, and teaches undergraduates is: if there is no willingness to acknowledge the excellent work of MLE professionals,(evenfrom kindergarten on) or, on the other hand, to support the recommendations from health professionals for restricting media use in the first two years, whose interests are being served?

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