Computers in the Early Childhood Classroom
People are always looking for some wonder drug to solve or “fix” our problems - Computers in the Early Childhood Classroom introduction. Today, the wonder drug for education is technology in the classroom. It is believed that integrating technology will solve all of our educational problems. It will increase academic skills and test scores, keep curriculum fun and interesting, lessen dropout rates, and make the lives of teachers easier and less stressful. Well, integrating technology may not accomplish all of these goals, but it does have a place in the early childhood classroom, right?
Truthfully, it depends on the classrooms goals and objectives as well as each individual child’s goals and objectives. It also depends on how these technologies are integrated into the early childhood curriculum. Young children have needs that are different from older children. Children from birth to age eight are constantly using their senses, minds, and bodies to explore and experience the world around them. A major question in education today, is whether or not computer use in the classroom is appropriate and beneficial to their development.
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To determine whether computers are developmentally appropriate for early childhood children, the developmental needs of these children need to be looked at. Children in early childhood are most generally in Jean Piaget’s preoperational stage of development. This means that they are concrete learners who are interested in using newly learned symbolic imitation such as speaking, writing, drawing and using numbers. Children this age are extremely active and energetic and often have difficulty sitting still.
They need frequent changes in learning styles and techniques to keep them interested, as well as a variety of physical activities involving dance, physical play, climbing, and sports. Preoperational children are also are strengthening their language development and exploring social behavior. Howard Gardner has shown that young children have several different learning styles, and that the best way for many children to learn is not the traditional teacher-directed, verbal approach (Gardner, 1983).
Parents and teachers must be sensitive to these different learning styles, especially as a more diverse group of children are being taught. Integrating technology into the classroom is a learning technique that individual students and their teachers can control and pace to meet their students individual needs. It is also a very powerful tool for students with learning disabilities. The danger, however, is that computers will only be used to increase academic skill achievement and that other important developmental needs will be ignored.
These needs vary from physical play, outdoor exploration of the community and nature, art, music and dance, learning social skills and moral values, and experiencing diversity. Parents and teachers also believe that technology through computers will prevent children from developing the persistence, ingenuity, tenacity, social adeptness and hard work needed to survive in the world (D. Wardle, nd). These are all fears that most parents and teachers in early childhood programs are concerned about. There is also the belief that computers are used in ways that are simply developmentally inappropriate.
So, the big question is, how can we integrate computers into early childhood curriculum in a positive way? Use of technology in the early childhood program is not to teach children how to use computer’s, they can do this when they get older, just like they can learn to drive a car later in their lives (Wardle, 1999). Appropriate use of technology in the classroom is to expand, enrich, implement, individualize, differentiate, and extend the overall curriculum. If computers are not fully integrated into the overall curriculum, they can actually negatively impact children’s creativity (Haugland, 1982).
To integrate computers effectively, teachers need to, select developmentally appropriate software and websites, select computers that can run the chosen software and can be easily upgraded, provide staff training on the use of computers and on ways of integrating the computers into the curriculum and finally, integrate computer resources in the classroom. “In developmentally appropriate settings children make many choices regarding when and how long they use learning resources. Computers should be no different (Haugland, 2000, p. 17). Preschool and kindergarten children should first be introduced to computers one at a time, or in small groups. Every child should have a hands-on opportunity to experience and explore different software programs. Once each child has had this hands-on experience, “computer time” should be just as important as other classroom time. During computer time there should be several chairs around the computers to encourage children to work together, depending on their age. This develops cooperative learning activities that are vital for all age groups.
To fully integrate computers into the early childhood classroom, teachers should take the goals of the curriculum and find ways these can be implemented with technology. Since it takes time and effort to do this, it is best to start with one subject area and modify that subject to include computer integration, before moving on to another subject area. The use of computers in a fully integrated classroom is endless. Software can be used to create books and journals, biographies, or something as simple as letting an early childhood student use the Paint program to draw and express themselves.
Older children can use printers and scanners, choose fonts, use various graphics programs, develop PowerPoint presentations to show the rest of the class etc… And of course, Internet sites can be accessed to do research on anything. There are also excellent opportunities for correspondence activities with children throughout the world. In most early childhood classrooms, technology will be a major part of learning techniques in the future. To make sure this new technology is used effectively, teachers must be trained and the programs used must be labeled as developmentally appropriate.
The technology must be fully integrated with the program’s educational goals and objectives. It is also important that computers do not drain critical resources from other essential instruction and that they don’t become an excuse for early childhood teachers to avoid their commitment to educate their students in developmentally appropriate ways. Finally, teachers must continually push themselves to integrate technology in ways that benefit the students, address learning disabilities and different learning styles, and bring the world and diversity into the classroom.