While more and more programs are successfully using technology in early childhood classrooms, in best practice, computers supplement rather than replace traditional materials and activities. Water, sand, blocks, writing materials, dramatic play, and books should form the core of every sound early childhood curriculum. Computers for young children should be used for enriching the curriculum. Administrators, directors, and teachers can work together to achieve the right balance in your program.
Integrating Computers in Your Curriculum
Developmentally appropriate integration begins with selecting a package of hardware and software that will complement your curriculum and educational goals. Make a list of your program's goals and refer to it as you review software. Does the software help you meet these goals? For example, if improving children's selfesteem is one goal, does the software give the child a positive cue to try again if she selects the incorrect response? Can she keep trying, with no negative feedback?
Software must also be carefully reviewed for appropriate content — making sure there is no violence and that the activities engage children in some combination of creative play, problem solving, collaboration, conversation, and practice and mastery of learning. Look for software that:
- Grows with the child's interests and learning.
- Provides positive verbal and visual cues and responses.
- Allows the child to control the pace and action.
- Allows children the option of practicing a skill over and over or moving on in the program.
- Supports a child working alone or with a group.
Make sure the computer is available and accessible to all children, age four and above. Obviously, a computer lab, situated away from active learning centers, is not the most desirable or child-accessible model. If your program has only one complete computer package, put it on a rolling cart and develop a schedule that provides time for everyone. For example, preschool classrooms could share it during the morning and early afternoon hours and school-age classrooms could use it in the mid- to late afternoon.
The first step is to provide teachers with in-service training. Comfort and proficiency come from time spent using the software and the manuals that accompany them. Every thoughtful software package provides a teacher guide designed to enhance learning activities. Once a teacher has seen this manual and used the specific program, it is much easier to begin to think and plan how it can be used effectively to enhance a particular interest, theme, or activity.
Sharing experiences and ideas about using software can create a feeling of confidence and enthusiasm. One interested or experienced computer user can be the catalyst for an entire staff. For instance, Jane Schissel, a principal at Grant Ranch Day School in Littleton, Colorado, feels her role is to provide support, assistance, and suggestions for using software. If that's not your particular interest and/or background, she suggests, find an experienced teacher to help out:
"As educators, we have a responsibility to learn about technology. We have to educate ourselves. It can be as simple as finding a colleague with expertise, taking a class yourself, or inviting parents to share their knowledge."
As computer use gets under way, take time to observe children. Who's using the computers? How frequently are different software programs used? What does computer use look like from the perspective of the child?
Also ask yourself the following questions:
- Do children still have ample opportunities for free play and all the learning centers?
- Do activities flow from other learning centers to the computer and back again? For example, is the computer being used to make signs and banners for the dramatic-play area?
- Does a matching game in the fine-motor center provide the concrete understanding for how to use the computer matching game?
- Do you see extensions of learning before, during, and after use of the computer?
If you can answer yes to several of these questions, your children are on their way to a balanced and enriching learning experience using computers.
Something to Think About
As you're reviewing your budget and thinking about whether to purchase a computer, additional computers, and/or computer-related materials for your program, ask yourself and your teachers if your other learning centers are well stocked with a rich array of materials. Is there anything you need for your art area that would enrich children's experiences? Is your book corner filled with a quality selection? What about your dramatic-play area? Are you able to rotate materials in all of your centers throughout the year so children's play and exploration are renewed and refreshed? For all the excitement technology can bring to an early childhood classroom, hands-on experiences while learning through play is still the most important.
Editor's Note: NAEYC's position statement "Technology and Young Children - Ages 3-8" can be found on (and printed from) its website at www.naeyc.org. You may also request a copy by calling the Publications Department at (800) 424-2460 and leaving a message with the name of the piece and your name and address.
Thanks to Jane E. Schissel, principal, Grant Ranch Day School, a Meritor Academy in Littleton, CO, for her insight and suggestions.