A small group of young children in Miss Kim's kindergarten class squealed with excitement as the image of a monarch butterfly appeared on the computer monitor. Their enthusiasm heightened as they each took turns using Adobe Photoshop to modify the colors of the butterfly's wings and add elements — such as trees, flowers, and rocks — to the background of the image.
“I made it blue!” exclaimed Rachel, as she transformed the butterfly's wing color to cobalt blue.
“I'm going to draw a purple flower next to it!” added Ryan. “Butterflies like purple cone flowers.”
Soon, another girl drew swirling circular lines behind the butterfly to represent the motion of its flight path. “It's flying toward the sun!” she exclaimed, as she quickly added bright yellow to create the sun.
The children continued to work together, making endless revisions to the image of the butterfly on screen. Later, they took turns printing out some of the images they had created. They made these prints into books, and, with the help of their teacher, added words and original drawings to embellish their computer work.
Digital media, such as computers and scanners, can extend your child's learning in exciting ways. The great news is that you can provide these experiences at home. As technology continues to play an increasingly important role in our society, you can help to ensure that your child's initial encounters with it are positive ones. By choosing to participate in your child's learning about technology, you send the message that digital media is a fun, useful tool.
The best place to start is to use your computer along with things you and your child may already be doing at home. When using digital technology, consider integrating it with traditional media, such as drawing, books, or paints. New forms of technology are not intended to replace traditional early childhood materials; rather, they can be used along with these materials in developmentally appropriate ways to support and enhance your child's learning.
For example, 5-year-old Janie made a self-portrait at school using markers on paper. When she brought it home, Janie and her mom used their computer to add new colors to her drawing. This not only helped Janie refine her computer skills, but it allowed her to explore her self-portrait in greater depth. Using the computer, she was able to make several drafts of her portrait, revise her choices in her work, and ultimately create many versions of the image by exploring different facial expressions and color combinations. By working on the portrait at home, it also created meaningful home-school connections.
Creating an At-Home Tech Center
You can set up a child-friendly computer area at home with a little careful thought and effort. Most PCs or Macs work fine for children, and no special hardware is required. All you really need to get started is a hard drive, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Add a digital scanner (you can find good ones for about $100) and you can offer even more possibilities for your child.
Scanners are particularly empowering because they merge familiar aspects of the real world, such as images, shapes, colors, patterns, and textures, with the virtual reality of the computer. Once images and artwork are digitized, your child can use different types of graphics software to embellish, manipulate, and reinvent his work in any way he chooses.
Scanners also offer ways to extend ideas in traditional media. With support from you, invite your child to place her drawing, painting, or small collage on the scanner. Once it's digitized as a computer image, she can rework or embellish her artwork.
When buying software, invest in programs that your child can grow into. Although computer games are often very popular, in time he may outgrow them. Graphics software such as Kidpix is a great beginning package. Programs likes these have more longevity because they are used for drawing, creating, and imagining. Later on, you can offer more advanced drawing and paint programs, such as Appleworks, Adobe Photoshop, or even the software that is included if you buy a digital camera.
Delightful Digital Explorations
At what age can your child start playing on the computer? There is no one right answer for everyone, but children as young as 3 can have fun and meaningful computer experiences, with the appropriate adult participation, involvement, and support.
When it comes to computer play, give your child the freedom to explore the technology you have and the tools provided in your software programs. Help her to familiarize herself with the tools, and then allow her to follow her instincts as she works. Over time, she will be able to master the technology.
Take the opportunity to learn along with your child. Children often find fresh, inventive ways to experiment with new features that adults would not think of. Don't be afraid to explore. And don't feel as if you need to have all of the answers before you try something on-screen with your child. Here are some ways to extend his creativity and learning with technology:
- Build computer play into your routine. Locate your computer in a central room in the house where it is easily accessible, such as the family room or kitchen.
- Play games with the scanner. For example, ask your child if she would like to go on a treasure hunt for small objects that can be placed on the scanner. Try scanning a collection of natural objects such as leaves, twigs, and stones, and then observe your child's reaction.
- Transform art. Scan finger paintings or drawings. Or, if you are making a message for a grandparent, you might invite your child to begin making the message on paper, and finish it together using the scanner/computer.
- Go beyond programs designed only for children. Choose appropriate “grown-up” software to fit your needs. In the case of the butterfly, the software we chose to use had a “layers” feature, which allowed images to be placed on top of one another. Therefore, the children were able to make many modifications to the page without changing the butterfly itself.
As your child learns about new forms of technology and digital media, he will begin to find ways to use it that are rich, interesting, and even beautiful. By participating in your child's technology education, you will give him a lifelong gift: the awareness that computers can be a powerful tool when combined with his own creativity.