Ron Spreeuwenberg is the Co-Founder and CEO of HiMama, the No. 1 rated and reviewed app for child care and early learning programs.
We recently caught up with Ron to get his insight on how technology can be used in early childhood education. Here’s what he had to say:
How did you become so passionate about technology and early childhood development? What sparked your interest?
My passion behind HiMama actually starts with my passion for entrepreneurship. My dream has always been to start my own business and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. I also wanted to start a business that represented the values that my father observed in life, including a passion for learning and a sense of civic duty. The search for a business that embodied this social impact component is what got me really excited about HiMama since children’s development before the age of 5 is so critical. Technology just so happens to be the most effective way to make a social impact at scale without a huge budget behind you.
Can you tell us the story behind HiMama?
In 2013 I left my job as a management consultant working in London because of my drive to start my own business. At the time, I didn’t have a specific business idea in mind, only some general concepts that I thought were interesting. When I came back to Canada, which is where I grew up, I was speaking with a friend of mine about what he was up to just to see if I could spark any new ideas or concepts.
When my friend and I got to speaking, I found out that he had a toddler in daycare and that every day he received a daily, written report of his child’s activities. He explained to me how unsatisfying the report was for actually knowing how his son’s day was. For example, it often wasn’t legible, the activities weren’t very descriptive, like “played outside,” and it also didn’t help much to know how your child was doing at the end of the day when you’ve been thinking about it throughout the day.
That’s when the light bulb went off. Clearly, there was a problem to be solved here. I figured that by making the reports digital we could solve all of these problems, and more – daily reports would be much more professional looking versus the hand-written reports, photos and videos that speak at thousand words could take the place of writing what activities the child did that day, and updates could be sent in real-time, giving parents peace of mind throughout the workday.
What do you see as being some of the biggest frustrations or hurdles facing early childhood educators today?
The biggest frustration of all for early childhood educators is that their role in childrens’ lives and society as a whole is extraordinarily important, but they are not recognized for this and do not receive the resources necessary to perform the duties of their role to provide the best possible outcomes for children. There are reports stating that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, there is a $7 or $8 return for the economy, yet our early childhood educators are highly under-compensated, in some cases receiving minimum wage. This includes reports from The White House.
It is also a fact that brain development is most significant from birth to age 3 and that the brain’s capacity develops 90 percent before a child reaches age 5. Yet, the early childhood educators that are left with the responsibility of developing our young children while mothers and fathers are at work are often treated as babysitters, while the vast majority of funding goes towards K-12 programs when the formative years of brain development have already happened. It just doesn’t make sense.
How should these teachers be using technology to make their jobs and their lives easier?
Technology for the classroom should be used with a purpose and with the proper training. It is one thing to know how to use an app or a software program, another to know how to use it effectively while you are accountable for the health and safety of anywhere up to 20 children. For this reason, it is important that teachers know when and how to use technology in their classrooms, including when not to.
There are several areas where technology makes the jobs and lives of teachers easier. One is for their own administrative documentation, such as attendance, health reports and incident reports, as well as their own classroom management, such as lesson planning and calendars. Another is for documentation of children’s learning and development. Just as important as working with children on their development, is documenting this development to inform future lessons and activities. They can also share all of this type of information with parents using technology which is a big advantage because everything is already stored digitally.
What are the benefits to parents of apps like HiMama?
The most basic benefit is simply the peace of mind of knowing that the most precious thing in your life, your young child, is safe and healthy while at a daycare or early learning program. The additional information on the child’s sleep times, mood, food and fluid intake and toileting will also help parents to plan their evening accordingly and help them understand why their child may be acting or feeling a certain way. The increased transparency and more frequent communications also increase the trust level between parents and teachers, improving the parent-teacher relationship.
In addition to the benefits of health, safety and general care, HiMama also keeps parents much more informed on their child’s overall development relative to more traditional pen and paper methods. On the development front, it also helps bridge the gap between learning that happens in an early education program and learning that happens at home. There is research that shows that learning outcomes are improved when a child can reflect on learning that happened previously or if they can continue that learning in a new environment, such as their home.
How do you think technology should be incorporated in early childhood education?
Ultimately, technology should be incorporated in early childhood education if it will improve outcomes for young children. This could happen both directly or indirectly. For example, a direct way that technology helps improve outcomes is through an interactive literacy app where the child creates content and learns about language and literacy I the process. Improved partnerships between teachers and parents is an example of improving outcomes for young children in an indirect way because both of these stakeholders play a crucial role in a child’s development and the more they are communicating, the more seamless the child’s learning will be.
What do you think are the worst ways to use technology in this setting?
Technology should not be used if it is not benefitting outcomes for the children in the early education program. Again, this could be directly or indirectly. A direct way that technology does not benefit outcomes for children is if content is just consumed by the child over an extended period of time, especially when the content is not educational in nature. However, it is also not beneficial to the child if teachers themselves are distracted by using the technology and as a result are spending less quality time with the children or, even worse, putting their health or safety at risk.
What types of technology should educators and parents be seeking out for preschoolers? What seems to make the biggest impact?
The first type of technology that educators and parents should seek out for preschoolers is software and apps that the preschooler can interact with directly to learn. They could be developing in a number of domains with this type of activity, including language, literacy, cognitive and fine motor, as well as knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math. This should be in moderation, but I strongly believe in children using technology for learning.
The second type is software and apps like HiMama where children benefit by the adults in their life and community having better visibility and co-ordination around a child’s activities, learning and development. More communication and transparency inevitably leads to stronger relationships and partnerships and better outcomes for children as a result.
What are the most interesting or exciting trends you’re following in the world of technology and early childhood right now?
Interesting technology trends that I think are applicable to early childhood include wearables, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. It is still very early to know exactly how these technologies will impact the classroom, but I definitely see them coming to classrooms in the next two to five years. For example, emotive computing teaches robots how to recognize human emotions and could flag whether a child is struggling on a lesson or with workload.
Major trends in early childhood education, including the increasing professionalization of the field, improved collaboration across practitioners and stronger leadership will all lend well to increased adoption of new and innovative technologies that will benefit outcomes for our most precious assets – our young children.