Caring for a baby comes naturally to most of us. Even the stiffest adults will melt when a baby is placed in their arms. Evolutionarily, we only know how to feed and care for children.
We also know that the earliest and best learning starts at home. But families of all types often find advantages in engaging in an early childhood education center, a family setting for childcare, or a trained home visitor.
Over time, early childhood education experts have expanded their innate abilities with groundbreaking research that reinforces their beliefs. For example, the National Academy of Sciences reports that young children learn from their caregivers through respectful and caring routines that promote neuronal connections and their social and emotional development.
It is this body of knowledge that more than 800,000 early childhood educators (ECEs) around the world have learned and know how to apply by earning the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. The CDA is based on a fundamental set of competency standards that guide early childhood professionals to become qualified educators of young children.
However, we must also encourage these gifted and skilled educators to better understand how technology can improve their practice with responsible innovation.
Some advocates are arguing that we should start engaging preschoolers with some of the basic coding skills, just as we start at a young age with reading. We need more research on appropriate and fair delivery and teacher training courses on integrating developmentally appropriate technological literacy into the daily learning environment of young children.
While some focus on the disturbing parts of artificial intelligence (AI), we need to harness it to help early educators thrive. For example, we can train AI to read and detect crucial data signals about the child’s development through teacher observation notes so that teachers can provide timely and necessary intervention. We can also use AI to help with the recruitment, matching and provision of the right proportion of educators who can speak the native language of the children served; this will support multilingual development in the school environment.
Advocates are also applying geographic mapping using location data to revolutionize the way early childhood educators can pursue professional development; can generate a list of professional development resources for teachers and translate the data into actionable next steps.
Parts of early education embraced technology faster than they could have imagined when the COVID pandemic arrived. For example, home visits are a relationship-based prevention strategy. Home visiting professionals, typically early childhood educators (including those with CDA credentials) voluntarily meet with families in their homes to share a range of parenting supports and screening.
Clearly this type of individual learning at home was impossible when we had to maintain the social distance. Rapid Response Virtual Home Visiting went into action to help home visitors virtually conduct a development screening and guide a caregiver in parent-child interaction on a virtual platform or by phone. Preliminary research shows high parental satisfaction rates.
Nonprofit innovations like the Message from Me app are also inspiring. It is a tool that allows children to communicate with their families about their daily activities and learning experiences through the use of digital images and recorded audio messages. More than 20,000 children have used the app and it has been shown to help them improve their collaboration, creativity and problem-solving skills.
There is no doubt that technology can bring about the revolution to improve our lives. What we need to keep in mind is that early childhood education has always been at the forefront of the past few decades. As TV became popular, Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street showed that relatively new technology could be harnessed to help our younger students; there were many skeptics at the time.
We have some modern Big Birds in the AI age, but our early childhood educators, their students, and the field as a whole need more.
Sandy Baba is Senior Adjunct Professor at Pacific Oaks College, Graduate School of Human Development in San Jose.