My first case for cell phones is the case for trust. Administrators everywhere are mortified about how difficult it is to staff a childcare center with qualified, quality teachers. Even where I operate my center, the unemployment rate is so low that when I put out an ad for 20+ teachers, I got three responses, five days later. This is where an administrator can make one of two decisions: hire anybody who "likes to be with kids" or hold out for someone they wholeheartedly trust to work in their center. If an administrator can't trust their employee's discretion with a cell phone, they shouldn't be trusting the lives of other people's children to them. That is the lowest common denominator. Once the issue of trust can be solved, actual, adult policies can be put in place.
My second case for cell phones exists within the concept of a child-led, play-based program. Nobody has a perfect environment for natural learning, and a teacher with a cell phone can help facilitate an expansion on a child's interests with images or videos sourced from the internet.
For example, the other day, our playground was a swamp of water from the most recent rain. When this happens, the kids usually pick up the loose 8 foot PVC gutter, place it at an angle against the fence, and send water they scooped from the ground down it like a river. Tons of important science, awareness, and muscular learning is happening during this time, but beyond that, one of the children placed a wooden block in the gutter and it got stuck. Water flowed over it, so he placed another one on top of it. He was building a dam. I asked him, "Is that a dam you're building?", and he was confused. I pulled out my cell phone and quickly searched a video of beavers building a dam and this child and a few others gathered around to watch the beavers building a dam. This gave them an idea.
Suddenly, after seeing that, they were using clumps of wood chips to create dams, since the beavers use sticks. They used the wood blocks from before to set the dams and then removed them to check the wood chips' efficacy.
Right there, I was able to expand learning tenfold by providing an information dump that I didn't organically have in my environment. I was able to do this because I had my cell phone on hand.
I think a lot of the reason for not having cell phones in the environment is stemmed from good intentions. We do not want children to believe that we are dependent on our electronic devices. I get that. However, here in the real world, we do use our devices for a lot of things. I use mine most often to search for things I don't know about. That's something I think we should be modeling for children. Adults don't know everything, and access to the internet can help us learn new information. I think modeling the use of these devices as a secondary mode of personal education and problem solving serves to create a better understanding than their ban all together.
Children will be exposed to electronics no matter what. We have two options: model for them how they can be used positively, or let the only exposure they get to them be the people who have unhealthy addictions to them and the negative connotations thereof. If we are to prepare children for this world, a healthy understanding of technology is important, as technology in general is only going to become more complex and more inviting. Technology is going to become a key resource in nearly any profession.
Studies that explain "screen time" as being a negative thing are flawed. They often don't take into account the host of situations surrounding children who engage in excessive screen time. One can say that in these studies, the reason the studied child is acting out is more likely the fact that his parents ignore him so that he'll use the device, than it is that the screen time is causing the behaviors. Screen time studies only serve to link two aspects of a child's life together as if one causes the other. They essentially say, "Child A watches a lot of television. Child A is diagnosed with depression as an adult. Therefore, if you don't want your child to develop depression, limit screen time." That's like saying, "Travis drives a car. Travis gets cancer and dies. Therefore, if you don't want to get cancer and die, don't drive a car."
Here's what the NIH has to say about screen time:
- Makes it hard for your child to sleep at night
- Raises your child's risk of attention problems, anxiety, and depression
- Raises your child's risk of gaining too much weight (obesity)
Now, I'm pretty sure that screen time is actually a side-effect of these issues. Of course it's going to be hard to sleep at night if you're watching television. Of course you're going to watch a lot of television if you already have anxiety, attention problems, or depression. Of course you're more likely to watch television if you're not physically active. That's just common sense. It's just ridiculous, however, to try to say that screen time causes these things. I think that parents using screen time as a pacifier might cause these things. I think parents ignoring their children and putting them in their room with a movie so they won't be bothered might be causing these things.
I'm not saying that every child should have unlimited access to technology, but, I think the way we model it should always be in a positive light to ensure that the exposure the children get contributes positively to their understanding. We shouldn't ban technology, as long as we know how to use it correctly. We can allow the use of cell phones for educational expansion (and to be checked during breaks) without a slippery slope into suddenly becoming the center that has TV time. Pulling out my phone to take a photo or expand on a topic the children are interested in is not going to cause depression, anxiety, or obesity.
Obviously, if your licensing regulations have anything to say about cell phones, you do always need to follow them. However, most of the people I talk to who think cell phones aren't allowed through licensing were told that by a previous employer and never questioned it, yet the regulation doesn't exist. If you trust your staff, you trust their discretion. It's as simple as that. If they need assistance in knowing what is and is not acceptable, that's okay--give that to them. But creating a catch-all rule to imply that there's no trust sends all sorts of wild messages about the climate in your facility.
For my own purposes, if anyone has a copy of their licensing book with a clause on cell phone usage, please forward it to me, as I love learning about the different regulations in different areas.