3 Surprising Lessons I Learned About Technology and Education With My 4-Year-Old

A Head Start teacher overcomes her skepticism about screen time to help her son get an academic boost before kindergarten.

By Stephanie Ewert

Almost every industry in the world has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in some way. Whether you work in education or have a child in public school, you’re probably trying to balance your own job while working with your child, his or her teacher, and a curriculum that was put together overnight. I’m a Head Start preschool teacher and the mom of two young children, so I know that being a teacher and a parent can sometimes feel overwhelming.

In my classroom, I’m always looking for new early learning tools. Typically, I search for resources that are hands-on and promote the student-teacher relationship. I don’t usually push for tech tools to use with my students. Recently, a colleague at school showed me a brochure about a program called Waterford UPSTART. As usual, I was skeptical when it came to using any type of technology with young kids. However, after learning more, I was intrigued to try it out with my own son. The program cost nothing, and the lessons offered fell in line with our curriculum. Waterford provides personal support from Family Education Liaisons, and if families don’t have a computer or Internet access, they supply them at no cost.

Today, I’m sharing my personal story so other educators and parents can see what my family has learned. I may have been hesitant at first, but I’ve discovered a lot by using technology at home. Here are the top three lessons.

  • Technology works in small doses.

My son uses the program about 15 minutes a day, five times a week. It also comes with an app called Waterford Mentor which gives me activities I can do with him offline and allows me to track his daily usage. As a single mom of two kids, sometimes I don’t have time to sit down at the computer with my son, so I can hop on the app and see if he finished his lesson. He’s a 4-year-old after all, so he wanders away from the computer sometimes. The app lets me know if he needs to hop on and finish his lesson for the day. I’ve been surprised to see how much my son has grown academically. Even after two weeks, I told him, “I can’t believe you are where you are.” Today he’s walking around our house spelling his name out loud. He recognizes upper-and lower-case letters, he knows his letter sounds, and he can recognize so many words. I’m confident he will enter kindergarten ready to read.

  • Engagement is contagious.

My son goes to preschool but he’s not in my class, so I don’t have a big part in his learning during the day. When I come home, I might be tempted to make dinner and put the kids to bed, but having Waterford UPSTART has helped me to be more active and engaged in his learning.

We have a different type of connection than we had before because we celebrate his learning and his milestones. We also do offline activities together that expand on what he’s learning. For example, he’ll learn some new words then we’ll read a book and I’ll say, “Every time you see one of those words, you’re going to read them to me.”

He also reads to his sister. She’s around when he’s playing and learning on the program, so she sings some of the songs. She knows a lot of alphabet sounds considering she’s one-and-a-half! She’ll walk around and sing the alphabet song, which is a cool side benefit I never knew would have come out of teaching my son at home.

  • Routine improves behavior, at school and at home.

Waterford UPSTART has actually helped my son’s behavior, too, because we’ve built a routine around it. We get home from school, we have a snack, we play a little bit, and then we do what he calls his “computer program.” He knows what to do, and he can tell me when things are supposed to happen. Our afterschool time used to be a bit of a free-for-all, but things go so much more smoothly now.

As a preschool teacher, I know the value of routine, but I hadn’t really connected the dots that you could accomplish this with someone so young. It even helps with his little sister. She’s getting it. As a family, we’re doing more activities together, and that’s really fun.

Stephanie Ewert is a teacher at West River Head Start in Mandan, North Dakota. She can be reached at [email protected].

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