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Chapter 17     Computers and Young Learners

Computers and Preschoolers

Children 3 and 4 years of age are developmentally ready to explore computers, and most early childhood educators see the computer center as a valuable activity center for learning. Timing is crucial. Children need plenty of time to experiment and explore. Young children are comfortable clicking various options to see what is going to happen next. Teachers may want to intervene when children appear frustrated or when nothing seems to be happening. Frequently, just a quick word or two, even from across the room, reminds children what they need to do next to reach their desired goal. Providing children with minimal help teaches them they can operate the computer successfully. In addition, by observing what children are do-ing, the teacher can ask probing questions or propose problems to enhance and expand children's computer experiences.

Kindergarten and Early Primary

As children enter kindergarten and the primary grades, it is important that they continue to have access to a computer center with a library of developmentally appropriate software. Children need opportunities to make choices about some of their computer experiences. In addition, kindergarten or primary-grade teachers will want to use the computer for more directed activities that match their learning objectives. For example, to enhance language skills, children can compose a letter to a friend or relative using the template provided in ClarisWorks for Kids or similar software.

Children could also work in small groups. For example, one group might use software such as Scholastic's Magic School Bus Explores the Rainforest to compare two of the seven ecozones in the program. Using software such as Edmark's Kids' Desk: Internet Safe, other small groups can investigate these two ecozones on Internet Web sites selected by the teacher. The groups might then merge to share their discoveries and write a report on the ecozones, illustrating each with pictures drawn by members of the group or downloaded from the Internet sites. Through exploring computer experiences, these children build memory skills, learn how to seek out information from multiple sources until they have a clear understanding of ecosystems, and integrate their knowledge of how each ecosystem functions. In the process, they learn to delegate responsibility, interact with others, solve problems, and cooperate to reach a goal.

Benefits of Computer Use

Research has shown that 3- and 4-year-old children who use computers with supporting activities that reinforce the major objectives of the programs have significantly greater developmental gains when compared to children without computer experiences in similar classrooms-gains in intelligence, nonverbal skills, structural knowledge, long-term memory, manual dexterity, verbal skills, problem solving, abstraction, and conceptual skills (Haugland, 1992).

The benefits of providing computers to kindergarten and primary-grade children vary depending upon the kind of computer experiences offered and how frequently children have access to computers. The potential gains for kindergarten and primary children are tremendous, including improved motor skills, enhanced mathematical thinking, increased creativity, higher scores on tests of critical thinking and problem solving, higher levels of what Nastasi and Clements (1994) term effectance motivation (the belief that they can change or affect their environment), and increased scores on standardized language assessments.

In addition, computer use enhances children's self-concept, and children demonstrate increasing levels of spoken communication and cooperation. Children share leadership roles more frequently and develop positive attitudes toward learning (Clements, 1994; Cardelle-Elawar & Wetzel, 1995; Adams, 1996; Denning & Smith, 1997; Haugland & Wright, 1997; Matthew, 1997).

Computers offer children instant gratification.  As soon as they push a button, they are rewarded with an answer or new situation. Attention spans of preschoolers is very short so when they hit a button and they can predict the outcome the child feels comfortable and in control.(Frank 20)

Computers can be disruptive

When computers are first introduced into the preschool environment, a disruption of classroom routine may occur. Children can become enthralled in the new phenomenon and may leave their usual daily activities. It is important therefore for the teacher to let the children know when they will be using the computers. If disruption continues, you may want to use it on a reward basis, getting other activities
accomplished first.

Recent journals suggest that when preschool aged children have control over software choices, they tend to engage in the activity longer and they do not seem to become bored as easily.(Liu 71) That is apparent even with adults today, if a person controls a situation, they are less likely to experience feel bored than someone working in this controlled situation.

Computers and technology have more benefits for young children than drawbacks. Children become more educated and advanced in their learning and development.

Hoot identifies four major uses of computers for the preschool aged child.(Hoot 2):

a) Drill and Practice
This idea helps to reinforce concepts that were already taught by an adult.

b) Tutorial Exercises
These exercises let the children "practice learning a concept not previously taught in the classroom".(Hoot 3) It's similar to drill and practice programs in many ways except that tutorial exercises are limited to specific concepts.

c) Simulations
Simulation programs put children in real life situations so that they can work their way through them to an effective conclusion. They "emphasize problem solving rather than factual content".(Hoot 3)

d) Achievement tools
Children can then learn to correct and insert words any time they want. They also learn the fundamentals of checking spelling. Ideally, for the younger children something such as a picture word processing program would be more effective. All of these new uses are fundamental in teaching young children new ideas and increasing their learning ability.

Computer technology can be highly effective for preschoolers. The number of programs that are designed specifically for young children makes it practically impossible for children to be unaffected in a positive way. However, care must be taken that the computer does not 'take over' and that children are still taught all the basic academic and social skills they will need later in school - and in life.

Chapter 18
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