Supporting Playful Learning with Information and Communications Technology in the Early Years (SPLICT)
This is a two year initiative supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Trust, and being carried out in close collaboration with local schools, the University of Swansea and Swansea LEA.
From the age of 3 to 5 children put a great deal of energy and effort into many of their play activities. During this period we can support their development by ensuring that they are exercising their minds and their bodies, while at the same time giving them the greatest possible enjoyment and opportunities for self expression and creativity. We can often do this by sharing (but not by dominating) their playful learning in the home and in other pre-school environments. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) provides a range of resources that parents, practitioners and other carers can use to support this activity.
The Home Learning Environment
The value to parents and children reading books together at home has been well established (Topping, 1992). In fact there is substantial evidence of an association between the quality of the early home learning environment (HLE) and medium and long-term proficiency in reading and in mathematics (Molfese et al 2001, Connell and Prinz 2002, Fantuzzo et al 2004; Sylva et al 2008).
The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) study has followed 3,000 children since 1999 and it has shown that children with a positive home learning environment (HLE) achieve better in the early years and throughout their primary school. While the effect of background characteristics such as family income and maternal education on reading and maths achievement diminished as children grow older, the impact of the quality of the HLE still had very strong effects on academic outcomes throughout their education. Although there is an association between the quality of the HLE and socio-economic status, the EPPE study has showed that families can improve their child’s outcomes by
what they do with their child regardless of social class. As the authors explain:
What parents do is - vitally important and can counteract other disadvantaging influences, particularly during the pre-school period. For this reason pre-school and school settings that do not promote parent support and positive HLEs are considered to be missing an important element in raising achievement and enhancing social/behavioural development over the longer term. (Sylva et al 2008 p vii)
Research in the USA and UK has also provided direct evidence of the effectiveness of the application of ICT in the home in support of early learning and development. But it is not just having a computer for the child’s use at home that has been found to be significant. The research found that what matters was how it was used. In studies by McCarrick et al (2007) and Bhavnagri et al (2009) young children involved in the Head Start programme were found to perform better on measures of cognitive competence (verbal, quantitative, general cognitive, and memory), and school readiness when their parents were actively involved in their home computer use.
Sustained Shared Thinking
The EPPE project also showed that adult-child interactions that involve ‘sustained shared thinking’ are especially valuable in terms of children’s early learning and subesquent educational achievement. Sustained Shared Thinking was included in the Key Elements of Effective Practice (KEEP) that was distributed to all English pre-schools settings, and it was also included in the national Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) a curriculum framework and guidance for England. Research has also shown how early literacy may be stimulated through the extended conversations that often occur during practical activities. The current policy interests in encouraging dialogue and enhancing the language environment of early childhood educational settings is further substantiated from the perspective of psychological literacy which stresses the importance of acquiring and developing a vocabulary of mental terminology and learning thinking skills through communication with others.