Most of us would agree that the Twitter-verse is more appropriate for the likes of celebrities and politicians than young children. But some educators are finding unique ways to use the tool starting as early as kindergarten.
Teachers say children need concrete ways of beginning to understand how the digital world works and how they should behave there.
Brain Puerling, a technology advisor to Sesame Street and author of Teaching in the Digital Age: Smart Tools for Age 3 to Grade 3, says children as young as three understand that digital tools can be used for learning and communicating.
Preschoolers today often incorporate digital tools into their imaginary play, an important way for kids of this age to begin to understand their world. My 4-year-old pretends to Skype with her imaginary friend on a plastic cell phone.
And Puerling says 3- and 4-year-olds at his school use apps to check the weather before deciding whether to wear a jacket outside, a behavior they’ve no doubt learned from the adults in their lives.
At his school they’re using a “tweet tree” to teach young kids about notions of privacy and communication in a digital world. Students pin their own paper tweets onto the tree.
"The idea is for them to start thinking about that [concept] -- once their tweet goes up, everyone can see it," Puerling told the New Zealand Herald. "That's something we need to get children thinking about, and we need to do it in ways that are concrete."
Kenyatta Forbes said that for her primary school students at John Fiske Elementary School in Chicago even the concept of email is often very abstract.
“We actually had a technology assessment and the kids had to answer the question: If you had to send an email, would you use a bird, a mailbox, or a computer?” she told us, “The kids picked the bird.”
We had to take a step back and think why don’t our kids understand email? We realized they don’t often see a mailbox or a computer anymore, they see their parents using tablets and mobile devices. And, if you think about email, it’s very abstract. They think, “How does this happen?”
Forbes eventually decided to use an email app designed for little kids to help make the idea more concrete.
Jennifer Aaron tweets with her kindergarteners at PS 150 in New York City. “We tweet as a whole class three times a week,” she told the New York Times School Book. “They come to the rug -- Twitter is usually on -- and they have either at their seats thought of an idea that they want to share, or when they get to the rug I’ll give them a few seconds to think about what they want to share. And they put their thumb up and I call on them.”
Aaron said her students compose tweets as class. She types the kids’ suggestions as they go, helping them form complete thoughts and learn how to edit down their tweets to fit Twitter’s character count. The classroom's Twitter account is kept private.
“And then they all start shouting “Tweet!” and I click the button,” she said.
Aaron uses Twitter to communicate with parents about what’s going on in class and as a literacy exercise to help kids learn to express themselves.
"To me, Twitter is like the ideal thing for 5-year-olds because it is so short," she said. "It makes them think about their day and kind of summarize what they've done during the day; whereas a lot of times kids will go home and Mom and Dad will say, 'What did you do today?' And they’re like, 'I don’t know.'"
If you’re looking for help in teaching digital literacy skills for the early elementary classroom, we have age appropriate lessons in digital literacy available for free. The 45-minute-lessons teach basics of internet safety, privacy, and security; introducing concepts of information literacy; and emphasizing online interpersonal skills.
You can watch Jennifer Aaron’s class in action below: