Technology and early language development

Chris Williams, founder of Chatta.
12 June 2017
Find out more about how Chatta can help your children, including disadvantaged children, children with special needs and children learning English as an additional language:, email:

Child on tablet

Over the last four years I have worked in hundreds of nurseries, early years settings and schools supporting practitioners and parents. One of the main challenges has been children’s communication and language. Many are struggling with speaking in sentences, everyday vocabulary and essential interactions.

It is impossible to ignore the role technology plays in early language development. Children need a language rich environment, yet since the advent of the smartphone, it has become evident that technology designed to aid and accelerate communication, is stopping people talking. How many times have you seen children sitting with parents whose eyes are glued to a screen, silently transfixed by Facebook posts and emails?

In addition, recent research evidence has linked young children’s tablet and smartphone use to language development delay. The mesmerising “digital babysitter” can do more harm than good if not utilised properly, and so many of those “educational apps” overlook the importance of interaction, talking and play in essential early development.

So, technology? What is it good for?Develop a real understanding of why technology matters in early education, and why, as practitioners we have to lead the way.

The exciting thing for me is that smartphones and tablets can actually be a powerful tool to help children develop spoken language, knowledge and understanding. As Bananarama will be singing on their comeback tour “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results!” And that of course, applies to any tool including digital technology.

Here are five tips for childcare practitioners on getting the best outcomes from digital technology:

  • Have a clear stance on how you use technology in your setting. Aim to avoid children using tablets and apps on their own, or even at all!
  • Encourage parents to think about their own technology use. Simple phrases such as “Stop, Drop and Talk” and “ There is no app to replace your lap ” can help remind parents that technology can restrict interactions.
  • Take lots of photographs. People, places, things children have done and seen. Use these to prompt conversations and for reflection opportunities.
  • Record songs and stories and listen back to them together. Most tablets and smartphones have voice recorders and video cameras which make this easy. Children love listening back to recordings of their own voice.
  • Share photos with parents and carers. Children don’t need to be in the images, just things they’ve seen and done. It really helps promote regular discussions at home prompted by the question “What did you do today?”

Always ensure any video recording or photography is within your nursery policy guidelines and that children included have been signed off to do so by parents/carers.

Want to know more?

Join me at the NDNA Annual Conference to find out more, join in with lots of activities and develop a real understanding of why technology matters in early education, and why, as practitioners we have to lead the way.