Topics in Early Childhood Education
Topics in Early Childhood Education
Computers in the Preschool Classroom
As computers play an increasingly prevalent role in today's world, it is important for early childhood educators to carefully evaluate the role of computers in the lives of young children. In many preschool classrooms a computer center may stand beside the block area, the easel and the dramatic play area. In evaluating computer use it is important to consider this in the larger context of a well-planned, developmentally appropriate classroom.
Many early childhood programs are currently involved in making decisions about a computer in the classroom. The decision making process is likely to include these questions: Why do we need a computer in preschool? What will be the teacher's role in facilitating its use?
A computer in preschool...Why?
- As more families puchase computers for home use, more young children are gaining some familiarity with them. A computer in the classroom may serve as yet another bridge from home to the peschool. Just as the three year olds in my classroom a few years ago found our pretend kitchen area so familiar and comfortable, the five year olds this year flock to the computer center. They view it as a familiar object from home in the midst of the new classroom environment.
- In order to keep children actively involved in learning and to promote a high level of engagement, the learning environment must offer complexity and variety, a blend of safety and stimulation. (Kritchevsky, et al, 1986) In child care centers where children may spend an eight hour day, the classroom must offer the children many stimulating choices if we expect them to remain involved and engaged. In my own classroom, I see the computer center as a way to make my room more complex and interesting for the children. It provides another choice for them as they engage in self-directed play.
- As children spend extended hours each day in a child care program, teachers must be certain to offer children a retreat from group play. I often critically examine the choices I've made in arranging my classroom: Is there an opportunity during the day for a child to be alone if he chooses? Is there a quiet place where his solitude and need for quiet will be respected by staff and peers? I am fortunate to have a few very sensitive and introspective children in my classroom this year. They have taught me about their special need to occasionally retreat and be still. The computer center may be the place for this in a busy, active classroom.
- Similarly, computer use may enable children to gradually move into social interactions with other children. Typically in a preschool classroom children are at many different levels of social development. Some may be engaging in very complex, language-mediated role playing. Others are only beginning to be parallel players. A child may find his own level of comfort at the computer: He may sit alone, next to a friend, or work collaboratively. My more sociable children sometimes have a circle of friends around them as they talk and work together in happy cooperation. A skillful teacher can use a child's computer use to encourage his growth by pairing children or guiding conversation among the children about their common pursuit.
- Finally, a computer in the classroom provides another way to build on an individual child's strengths. A child, who may not be successful in sustaining complex role-playing or in activities requiring physical coordination, may become your classroom computer expert. The child then becomes a teacher to his peers and provides a success on which the teacher may subsequently build. Computer use for such a child can become a self-esteem building activity.
What is the teacher's role?
A teacher may assume many roles in facilitating the use of the computer in the preschool classroom. She will be the software critic, a parent educator, a coach for the children and more.
- Typically, a teacher selects the software for the computer center or may advise administrators who make such purchases. When selecting software it is important to consider the skills and concepts being presented. Are they consistent with the curriculum? How open-ended is the proram? Is there more than one way to use it? Does it give a child choices and time to plan? Does it give the child feedback as he works? Do graphics mirror any text messages for non-readers?
- Many parents and professionals worry about the addictive appeal of the computer. A teacher needs to plan a well-rounded classroom experience that offers interesting and challenging choices for children. If many of the chidren only prefer the computer center, take a look at the rest of your learning environment. Are you encouraging a variety of activities and choices throughout the day?
- Similarly, teachers need to respect the children's focus when they are using the computer. Use authentic, non-intrusive support strategies. (Marshall, 1996.) Encourage children's independence and initiative by making computer use a choice along with block play or painting at the easel. Resist the urge to manipulate the children's use of the computer. A teacher needs to be very familiar with a program befroe it is offered to the class. Learn it yourself and then teach the program to small groups of children before they use it independently.
- A teacher may need to help parents understand the computer's role in the classroom. Parents may worry that computer use will interfere with a child's socializing with peers. A teacher can explain that the levels of play observed in, for example, the block area---solitary, parallel and cooperative---are also seen in the computer center. Share anecdotes and observations which will illustrate this for parents. Parents may also seek a teacher's advice about the selection of developmentally appropriate software. Reviews, both online and off line, exist to guide parents and teachers selection.
- To critically and carefully determine the effectiveness of the computer in your classroom, observe and evaluate the children's use of the computer: How are they using it? What levels of play are the children displaying? What language development is occurring? Which programs have they mastered? Observations and anecdotes recorded over time may provide your own answer to the question: "Why do I need a computer in the classroom?
"Computers are part of our everyday world, and as such they should be included in the early childhood classroom as objects to explore, manipulate, and understand."
--G. Morgan & D. Shade
Young Children: Active Learners in a Technological Age
Kritchevsky, Sybil, et al. Planning environments for Young Childen-Physical Space. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1986.
Marshall, Beth. "My Way--Children at the Computer Area." High/Scope Extensions. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press, October, 1996.
Links of Related Interest
Chidren's Software Revue
Superkids Educational Software Review
Early Childhood Education Online
Early Childhood Educators & Family Web Corner
The High/Scope Educational Research Foundation
Next month's topic: Designing environments for active learning
"Emergent Literacy: The Role of the Preschool Teacher", the May issue of Topics in Early Childhood Education, is available online in the Archives.
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