Teaching with Technology: Children, Computer Chips, and Creativity

Does new technology zap children's creative energy? Let's take a look!

  • Grades: PreK–K

LIKE IT OR NOT, COMPUTER CHIPS ARE SATURATING THE lives of young children. They're embedded in dolls, a baby's first rattle, even in stuffed lovies. There are play teapots that whistle and animals that talk. You might be concerned about how this could change children's play experiences. Could this technology be encroaching on children's creativity? The truth is, like all toys and play materials, some enhance play and offer unique learning opportunities, while others are a waste of time and money.

START WITH YOUR CURRICULUM

If you use your underlying teaching philosophy as a lens through which to view this new generation of tech toys and software, things will snap into focus. In addition, follow these guidelines to help you choose products that are appropriate for your classroom.

  • Keep in mind that the #1 selling toy has been the very low-tech Beanie Baby. It has no batteries, wires, or headache causing noises. Why the success? Beanie Babies meet a preschooler's strong appetite for representational play. And the whistling teapot will still be used in the dramatic-play area long after the batteries give out because the toy supports representational play even without the whistling. Look for "smarts" that add to the toy experience rather than replace it.
  • Look for products that let children try out their ideas. Imagine the kind of sculpture that Michelangelo could have created if he had tools with an "undo" button!
  • Technology can put children in control. Smart toys and software incorporate active learning concepts with instant feedback and adjustable difficulty levels.
  • Test-drive these technology products and evaluate how well they support your curriculum.

SOFTWARE REVIEW

Each of the programs described below includes options for creative play.

Arthur's Preschool 2002 Edition

Teaches: early math, early reading, shapes, letters, counting, music

This two-CD set offers eight enjoyable logic, math, and reading activities all set in Arthur's tree house. Children use logic skills as they build bridges across puddles for ladybugs and test their powers of observation as they help put on a puppet show by matching progressively more complex features like puppet hats to heads. Children practice their counting skills while they pitch balls to Francine at batting practice and zero in on early reading skills as they dig for letters in the sand. The second CD adds depth to the package with printable activities and a child-friendly card creator The open-ended music activity is also a strong component, allowing children to combine the sounds of a piano, clarinet, flute, and drumset to make their own tunes. The software's best features include the automatically adjusting difficulty levels and the printable reward certificates that are decorated with dot-to-dot puzzles. In sum, the program's activities are straightforward, responsive, and child oriented, with terrific design features that let children determine the pace and challenge. The Learning Company, 800-395-0277; www. learningco. com; Win/Mac; $19.99. Ages 3-5.

Ollo and the Sunny Valley Fair

Teaches: creativity memory, logic, counting, patterns, sorting, sequencing, music

Children exercise their creative-thinking skills in this terrific new program from Hulabee, the creators of the lovable Putt-- Putt, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam. Ollo, a little blue ball, goes on a scavenger hunt in search of special items needed to save Sunny Valley from a giant rolling tomato. This appealing character has expressive eyes but never talks, letting a child's imagination do the work. On the adventure, children encounter dozens of early learning concepts presented in an open-ended fashion. They experiment with patterns, quantities, drawing, and dozens of other concepts that support children's emerging creativity and math and music skills. Hulabee Entertainment, 425-739-- 2700; www.hulabee.com; Win/Mac; $19.99. Ages 36.

Fun for Brains

Teaches: creativity, shapes, body parts, music, counting

This inexpensive, well-designed early learning CD-ROM was created by a mom and dad for their 4-year-old daughter. Although some of its presentation is a bit amateurish, overall, the program is a pleasant surprise. Five activity areas offer lots to do. There's a fun creativity section where kids can decorate different scenes with stickers. There's also a nice musical instrument section where children experiment with sounds. Kids will find a neat schoolroom where they can play with shapes, letters, numbers, and more. The other two areas present animated early learning videos and a few activities focusing on the human body. Print and save options are missing, but the graphics are bright and colorful. Fun For Brains, 954-970-8447; www.fun4brains.com; Windows; $15. Ages 2-6.

FOR TEACHERS

PrintMaster Platinum 12

Teaches: printmaking, creativity, publishing

Teachers, here's the ideal tool for making signs, labels, or children's nametags. There are lots of improvements to this year's edition, and along with Print Shop, it remains one of the best printing programs on the market. There is a vast library of clip art and photos (202,000+ images, which is more than you'd ever want) plus 11,000 project templates. The program is particularly easy to use, letting you design and print a wide range of projects, from greeting cards to newsletters and masks to brochures. The templates include homework helpers, kitchen crafts, kids' crafts, party decor, and photo projects, and you'll find tools for slide shows and screen savers. Art from Learning Company's games like Carmen and ClueFinders is thrown in, along with some great images from McPherson's Cartoons and National Geographic. The Learning Company, 800-395-0277; www.learningco.com; Windows; $39.99.

  • Subjects:
    Cleverness, Creativity and Imagination, Teaching with Technology
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