I learned early that not every bit of technology was going to meet my needs or be easily accessible with my skillset. To save time exploring new technology I came across in my searching or was recommended by other educators, I learned to focus on 5 questions before I invested time exploring and/or learning how to use that specific technology.
1) What is its PURPOSE?
There always seem to be a number of technology options available that might work to solve whatever issue you are trying to. There are also new options regularly being added or updated. From the start I wanted the ones that fit me best, so I needed to understand what I was looking to accomplish in using the technology. Each family child care is unique and thus the solution you or I find that work for us will also be somewhat unique. There are many positive reviews about almost all options available today, so it remains important to be clear about what your purpose is.
My main focus has been on running a sustainable small business. My purpose started off being about saving time and money and that remains true today. I’ve always been mindful about any changes I make needing to be about improving my services to families and children. Saving time for me is about improving organization of business records, making it easier to find and maintain ideas for planning lessons, child assessments, communication with client families, and marketing my business. Saving money is balancing costs. In this case it was cost of the technology tools vs paper and ink. Saving money means that I can better meet the financial needs of my family. Aligning with my business plan, saving money helps my business to be sustainable.
I said earlier that my “WOW!” moment in that 2006 college class was being introduced to blogging. In blogging, I saw a website platform that would offer me a way to save money by cutting down (almost eliminating) my usage of paper and ink. I could eliminate the weekly printed newsletter, eliminate printing off copies of my handbook, and eliminate the need for reminder notices on upcoming events. It would also provide a way to continually market my program. All this and I could start simple, learning slowly and adapting as I became more comfortable. It looked like using technology would meet my purpose.
- What devices did I have or was in a position to acquire?
- What did my families have access to?
- What devices made most sense considering what my purpose was, time to set up and learn to operate and cost?
You can find some great technology platforms and app options, but without the right device it’s useless. If families will not use it, it’s also a waste of your time and funds.
3) Consider Your NEEDS
Think beyond what specific technology apps/programs/platforms/services are available to you to meet your purpose and will work on your devices. Think about how these programs are structured. Do they met your needs in regards to your business in general, not just specific areas?
- Privacy is important. You need to understand how sites protect your privacy, ownership of information shared on sites that you generated works, and what needs to be protected.
- What does it cost? Is there value for the cost? How does the cost work into your budget? $4 may seem like a lot for an app vs a free version, but if the paid version provides a beneficial service and you are going to be using the app regularly than $4 spread over usage will end up being pennies to eventually free and better provides what you need.
- Consider who (you, staff, children, parents) will use, why and how? Technology in your program will be used in different ways by different parties.
- If you have multiple devices you want them to work together. Most providers would want to be able to share photos and videos with families, so also need to consider what technology needs even more flexibility in accessing.
- Ongoing support. Today there are so many sources for support, you can find an answer to any question at a speed or level that works for you. If you want human support that is a different concern.
As I’ve mentioned my adventure into technology started from a point of frustration over how parent communication was not working as well as I wanted. I was doing my part of providing the information through as many avenues as possible, but for stressed families it wasn’t always hitting the mark. Then servicing a mixed ages group, each of the different age groups of children and individual experiences of families meant everyone was interested in different information. Using technology provided me with the ability to provide consistent parent communication across the ages, and met individual special needs also, all while simplifying my organization. A bonus is the professional image my business portrayed to potential clients that are usually searching for care online.
I’ve had a desktop/laptop computer through this journey and all my families had access to some type of computer at home or work. Today, I also have tablets and a smart phone. Every one of my families have at least a smart phone, but most have tablets and laptops at home also.
Today there are not many families without smart phones and all the tech programs I have chosen to use work on them. There is greater access for families to community wifi like locations like their public library. The only remaining drawback in my area is reliable internet service access by wi-fi or cell data. It’s surprising the number of dead spots we still have around us.
If you plan on visually sharing what is happening within your program with families you will need some type of digital camera. I think having one with video ability is important. This can be a smart phone, tablet or a dedicated camera. I’ve had a dedicated camera for years. I have taken lots of photos and long videos for years. I find myself using my smart phone most of the time now, but for longer videos I find a separate camera is still a better option.
Family child care providers, will always need to be creative in use of space for storage. Technology tools and any material you generate need to be stored. The good news is the physical space needed for storage is minimal. An external hard drive, if used, is not much larger than your hand. For my computer generated material I store it in multiple places from an external hard drive to the cloud, depending on why and where I will be using the material. There are many options for this type of storage that range from free to significant cost. I like to start with the free and see if it will work for me. Over the years the quantity of my generated materials has definitely grown, so I now have some cloud storage cost. I could separate items out over different storage locations, but when considering time and cost I’ve figured that the cost is a reasonable expense. It is a tax write-off/deduction.
Google Drive as my prior platform.
- storage is good
- easy to navigate
- use for text, photos and video
- easy to share information through links with any party necessary
- accessible by any smart phone, tablet or computer. You just need your account information.
Just about anything I use to do on paper I can do Google Drive. There is another training offered by FCCAM specifically about starting to use Google Drive. There is also one on using Google Drive Sheets for record keeping.
Previous, I used Flickr for all my photo storage. They have changed storage options and require a paid account for larger storage now.
With that change I left my old photos on Flickr at no cost, and switched to using Google Photos going forward.
I use Vimeo for the primary storage of my videos. You can embed and share any videos you have downloaded onto Vimeo. Vimeo previously offered a free plan with limited space and weekly limited download, but like many programs all the plans have a cost at this time. Early on I found with the volume of video I took I wanted more storage and download options, so I had purchased begun using an annually before the change. Again the cost is a business expense and tax deductible.
You can store videos and link to them in Google Drive, but I still prefer Vimeo. In Google Drive videos use a lot of storage space.
Currently, I don’t use any photo editing site. Although the fees are reasonable, as I use photos to depict what is actually happening I do not need editing tools.
Family child care providers work long hours, juggle our own family’s needs, and hopefully find time for ourselves. Taking the time to try something new when the old routine works can be a hard sell. It seems easier to just continue as we are. We also know that technology although it can be a time saver, can also become a black hole. I think it’s up to each of us to decide which it becomes. I found I was able to stay out of that black hole by knowing what I wanted to accomplish and setting boundaries.
Anytime I’m learning something new, I need to put some extra time in on it. But once having learned the basics, I’ve found the time used moving forward is significantly less. I didn’t find that any different with working to learn about new technology. I did found it was easiest for me when I started to set aside a chunk of uninterrupted time, so I could focus and really engage.
Over the years, I’ve scheduled time into my week, if not my day for using technology in my work. (Reminder that the time spend on all of this gets included with figuring your Time-Space %.) Time is used for such actions as: editing photos, videos, and sharing them through links; notes for parents; updating blog posts; following others online; and Pinterest usage. This time split up very easily to work within my work day. Adding 15 minutes for technology to my morning routine wasn’t a hardship. I always had future lesson material to organize and that’s easy to do with a laptop during rest-time. Last minute notes for home could be generated during afternoon snack. There are times I’d prefer to do the work in the evening in a quiet house, especially child assessment notes, or writing up a detailed blog post. On average I would spend about 1 hr a day maintaining everything I did on technology. There are days I used less time and days I needed more, but having regular time scheduled allowed me to adjust as needed without much impact to the daily schedule. I also made sure I did research and training that was technology related monthly. That might be a webinar training, trying out a new app, or reading articles from technology experts.
Once I got comfortable with the basic tools I was using, I felt comfortable starting to explore other options. I didn’t trade out tools, just because it was newer. My purpose to use what worked best for me remained. There were times there was enough added value for me to change things up.
5) RESOURCES to continue to grow your knowledge and skills?
I believed in gathering resources for technology usage, just like I would for any learning opportunity. As I’ve mentioned I tried to stay up on changes by following technology experts, especially those in education. I think it’s important to be watching what others in the early childhood field are doing. Today you will find many avenues available to you that are easy to access, free and actually provide you with support. I recommend finding some trusted resources to regularly follow online. There are lessons on every topic imaginable that are being shared – directions, photos, demonstration videos – all for your usage. So you do not need to make business forms or policies from scratch, while FCCAM can be your go to, many knowledgeable early childhood educators are sharing their business practices online.
To help in organizing the websites and blogs I followed, I use the RSS reader Feedly. Using a reader has saved me an immense amount of time each week. A reader is a site you can set up to provide direct links to any blogs you want to follow.
They post short descriptions of any new post for a site. This means you do not need to go to each site you follow to see if they have anything new up. A reader provides for a quick screening with a direct link to the post on it’s website.
Unless you follow a number of website, you will have little use for a RSS reader. There are different readers available. I’ve found the free Feedly works fine for me. Here are of few of the other options available in 2021 with free versions: Old Reader; Inoreader; NewsBlur; Flipboard.
I also use the “Bookmarks” tool on my computer. I use my Bookmarks for websites that I frequent, for articles that I want to read later and maybe save to Pinterest or add the whole website to Feedly. I have set up Folders and can quickly place resources into these folders to spend time on when I have it. I try to regularly clean-up my Bookmarks after I have accessed what was saved, read it, and reorganized it. I make myself review them at least quarterly, but monthly is my preference. I’ve learned that for me spending a little time regularly pays big dividends overall.
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