My exploration of children’s literature, new media and technologies continues to uncover similarities and best practices early childhood professionals and parents can apply to their work or interactions with young children. Recently, I reread an article by Katrina Willard Hall, Ph.D. published in Young Children. In her article “Reflecting on Our Read-Aloud Practices: The Importance of Including Culturally Authentic Literature”, she states that the books teachers select for read-alouds should be culturally inclusive, explaining that “literature from authors and illustrators who authentically depict various cultures and backgrounds is an important part of building a classroom community”. An insightful point she makes in this article is that:
As authors tell a story, their point of view and beliefs come through in their writing, intentionally and inadvertently. Teachers also assign value to books, simply by choosing to read them aloud…As educators select books to read aloud, there may be definite messages we want to express to the listeners – messages that are influenced by our beliefs (pg. 81).
While her comments are addressed to teachers, these ideas can be applied to both early childhood professionals and parents. Just as authors’ perspectives are shown in their work, children’s media creators and technology designers convey their perspective of the world in their work. This means that we need to be aware of potential cultural biases and stereotypes that may be presented in various digital tools and media and make thoughtful and appropriate selections. In addition to being intentional, we need to be reflective and compare the message we want to convey to young children with the message we are actually conveying to them.
To help us move towards choosing more culturally authentic material, Hall (2008) offers practical tips that can applied that includes: finding high-quality, culturally authentic literature, avoiding stereotypes, and blending the old with the new (p. 84). These tips can be translated to selecting culturally inclusive new media and technologies.
Finding high-quality, culturally authentic interactive media and technology: Use credible sources that consider developmentally appropriate practice and child development. I recommend using a combination of different sources like children’s media and technology review sites, information from parents and professionals on social media, and tech play time with other adults to examine culturally authenticity.
Avoiding stereotypes and cultural biases: Reflection and conversations with other professionals and parents are key to revealing stereotypes and biases that may be embedded in our selection and use of technology and media. Questions we may find helpful are: Am I choosing media and technology that are reflective of children’s cultural experiences and every day life? How is this digital tool and/or media empowering for children of diverse backgrounds? Having multiple media options that represent different cultures and using open-ended tools that allow children to create content are a few approaches we can use to being culturally inclusive.
Combining traditional and digital tools: While technology and media can be engaging and empowering for young children, we should also make use of other tools with young children. There are a plethora of experiences that children require to nurture their holistic growth. We should find a way to balance technologies with other materials and experiences so that children can choose from a range of culturally inclusive activities.
Digital tools can be innovative and constructive tools that support culture and diversity in early childhood. To make sure this happens, we need to be thoughtful about the hardware and software we’re selecting and how we’re using them with young children. Whether we are aware of it are not, we are conveying our values and modeling technology and media selection and behavior. By being reflective and critical users of new technologies, we can create cultural inclusive experiences to support healthy development for all children.