How to empower children with ipads in the classroom today?

Teaching strategies in early childhood - technology integration

By Michael Hilkemeijer


Mobile technologies are continuing to become a key part of young children’s lives. Today, it is used for communication, socialising, and entertainment but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their capabilities.


As the educational value of ICT continues to be widely recognised around the world, governments are rolling out technologies such as iPads and laptops which encourage mobile learning in education. Digital classrooms are now becoming the norm for any new school built and even older classrooms are being revamped and purposed for the use iPads.




Why use iPads in the Classroom?

The benefits of iPads in education alone include:

  • Mobility – like other mobile technologies in education, using iPads in education provides children to learn where they want to learn and it gives them the opportunity to take them outside of the classroom door to learn in different settings;
  • Personalisation – in a 1:1 setting, children can set the settings of the iPad to the way that fits their way of learning best;
  • Mandatory interaction – there is a great deal of importance placed upon interaction in teaching and learning. iPads encourage human thinking by getting children to swipe, watch videos and pitch-n-zoom etc.
  • Inclusion – when using iPads in education, it too adds to allowing all children to learn by putting them all on the one playing field with technology.


When using iPads in early childhood education, the benefits can also include:

  • Providing a positive experience to ensure engagement;
  • Encouraging lifelong love of reading;
  • Promoting literacy learning;
  • Develops ICT capability and technological literacy.


The many benefits that apply to ICT in education also apply to the use of iPads in early childhood education. However, the iPad learning curve also applies to you as the teacher. If your capabilities with an iPad is not great then you can learn with the children. The benefit of this for you is that you will feel more comfortable knowing that it is impossible to know everything and that you too are becoming a lifelong learner.


Using iPads as an ‘Add-on’ or Choosing to integrate iPads transparently in Learning Activities

Planning is a significant aspect of a teacher’s role and when it comes to thinking about using iPads in early childhood education, for example, it does get more complex. Today, there is a lot of emphasis on ensuring that teachers don’t think of technology use just as an add-on in the curriculum. There is a clear distinction between the role of technology as an add-on and when you actually integrate technology.


For myself, this difference is made clear in the very definition of what technology integration is. In my studies, I have learned that ‘technology integration’ relies heavily on the transparency of the technology in preschool activities and is distinguished as a result of young children using it to achieve a learning outcome.


On the other hand, if your goal is to simply improve literacy, numeracy, or any other key learning and development aspect of childhood then you may choose just to ‘add-on’ technology. This is not technology integration as there is no transparency involved and young children are generally instructed by the software or apps and there is very few capabilities in ICT developed.


Add-on applications for iPads in early childhood education can be a fantastic way to increase the learning and development of young children. Apps such as this are the equivalent of Integrated Learning Systems or Subject-specific software on desktop computers, but the use of these is not considered to be effective technology integration. However, this may just be what you decide to use technology in early childhood education for.


So if you want to integrate technology in preschool activities, you need to plan your technology-based activities by applying the following core principles:

  1. ICT capability is best developed in the context of purposeful subject-related activities;
  2. The level of ICT challenge can be adjusted in most activities to suit the needs of the learner without affecting the subject outcomes and;
  3. Although there is a hierarchical structure to ICT capability, any projects/activity can be organised to provide opportunities for basic skills and knowledge to be acquired on a ‘need to know’ basis.

(Bennett, Hamill, & Pickford, 2007, p. 49)


Beyond Apps – Developing ICT Capability

Apps are typically the first line of activity when using iPads in early childhood education, however, you can help children develop ICT capability. I briefly mentioned this in the above section. ICT capability is in fact technology integration but it involves more than just ICT techniques.


Here are a few examples of what you can do with iPads in the early learning environment:

  • Taking digital photos outdoors – you can create an activity that gets children to take digital photos outside and then model how you can transfer the digital images into a drawing or painting program where captions can be added, image editing skills can be learned,  and then be added into stories by children;
  • Support children’s use of the digital camera on iPads – you should encourage them to use the digital cameras when they play. You can then use the photos to reflect on what they have taken and to share the choices they have made.


Choosing DAP Activities with iPads

When deciding to use iPads in early childhood education it is important that you adhere firstly to the DATEC guiding principles. There are also a number ways in which you can select DAP activities for multi-touch devices such as iPads and each helps children accomplish important learning objectives.


Nemeth and Simon (2012) outline these in the following areas:

  • Logic and reasoning – it is important that you look for activities that promote decision-making and problem-solving skills. Activities that ask children anticipate what might happen are great for this.
  • Thinking and learning – two qualities that can be supported by more sophisticated apps available are curiosity and perseverance. The iPad as a mobile device can provide access to websites that are interesting. There is even an iPad app that allows virtual cupcakes by selecting an array of batter and flavour.
  • Math – you should ignore simple counting and sorting activities and instead look for activities with different levels of difficulty and games that relate to how math is used in real life.
  • Science – there are many apps like software that support science learning. The iPad can be brought to the playground where children can take pictures of plants growing in the yard and then look them up on the Internet to find out what they are.
  • Creative arts- in addition to the many drawing and painting apps there are also ones that enable you to work with a child to design and create objects, machines, and clothes. Don’t forget there are also musical apps too.
  • Language and literacy – allow children to play with words or write and record their own stories.
  • Social studies – iPads can be brought on neighbourhood walks to take pictures of buildings and people in your environment and work with the children to turn them into games and puzzles for your classroom.



Choosing Apps for iPads

Apps are the equivalent to software and this where most opportunities for the development of ICT capability can happen. Educational apps, therefore, need to be able to develop ICT capability by challenging children intellectually and those that are content-free and give children full control and a high level of decision making are the most ideal.


Other considerations include:

  • What features and facilities does the app provide which be used to extend children’s learning?
  • How easy are these features to use?
  • Will the children need to be instructed in the use of the apps?
  • What is the educational purpose underlying the children’s use of the apps?