By Michael Hilkemeijer
When thinking about the use of digital technology in early childhood education computers often arise as the key type of technology. Computers, like most technology in preschool activities, can be used as a very effective tool for learning but only if you support its use with evidence based strategies and don’t just use it as an ‘add-on’ to the learning activities in the curriculum.
Computers can also be set up for digital role play to enable young children to gain a further understanding of their technological surroundings. The use of computers in early childhood education is one of the most frequent one of them all as it is linked to educational software and mediated with Interactive Whiteboads.
It is worth noting that computers being amongst other types of digital technology in early childhood education has also been discussed in the research statement by Early Childhood Australia titled “Statement on Young Children and Digital Technology”. The statement acknowledged how today young children form relationships in early childhood education with others in their communities when they learn ICT skills such as learning how to turn computers on and off, navigating games or accessing digital content from older siblings.
Throughout this course, I will address the best practices highlighted in this statement and will extend your learning by delivering practical and immediately actionable advice on these practices so that you will begin to see the benefits of integrating computers in early childhood education.
Pros and Cons of Computers in Education
All this implies that computers is just one of the digital technologies that is at the heart of successfully integrating technology in the early childhood learning environment. So let’s explore the benefits of computers in early childhood education further.
- Relationships can form when children all gather around a computer to share ideas, learn and communicate with each;
- Studies have indicated that computers have supported the development of abilities of children’s memories, communication and problem solving;
- Like most other technology in preschool activities, computers generate a lot of engagement and motivation in learning;
- Computers in early childhood education support the use educational software;
- Computers supports digital play in learning environments.
Today, much of the literature surrounding the negative effects of computers in early childhood education has been focused on the use of video games. There are also voices to do with the use of computers displacing other important learning and play activities.
Issues have also been raised when in relation to safety concerns for young children using desktop computers and indeed the proper screen time duration should always be assigned to such activities.
The Role of the Teacher and Computers in ECE
There are various roles that computers as the main form of ICT plays in the early learning environment.
Roles of ICT
Examples of technology use
Children using ICT in their play or learning (alone, with peers, or with adults).
Children using computers to play games, listen to stories, or draw pictures.
Children and practitioners using ICT together to scaffold children’s learning.
Using the Internet to locate information or resources, sparked by children’s interest in a particular topic or idea.
Children and practitioners using ICT together to document and reflect on children’s learning, or to share children’s learning with parents, or other practitioners.
Taking digital photos, videos, or audio recordings of activities in the early childhood education setting and reviewing these together, or sharing them with parents.
Practitioners and children using ICT to build portfolios of children’s work, to use for evaluating progress in children’s learning and development.
Basic Computer skills for Kindergarten and Preschool (and Early Primary)
Intentional teaching strategies are necessary to help young children use computer hardware successfully to support their learning. Here are the basic computer skills that you will want to support in your work with the children.
- Turning the computer on, starting and stopping programs or activities;
- Understanding the safe use of hardware: no banging, hitting, bumping, or knocking; no liquids or moisture; no pulling cords or sticking things anywhere without permission;
- Making the connection between moving the mouse and what happens on screen;
- Understanding the cursor – what it is, its different forms and functions, and how to use it;
- Clicking the mouse, highlighting text, and dragging items;
- Drawing with the mouse or by touching the screen;
- Keyboarding skills – typing letters, then using punctuation, numbers and capitalisation; using function keys such as Delete, Return or Backspace;
- Undoing, erasing, going forward and backward from one screen to the next;
- Using appropriate touch screen and multi-touch gestures such as a swipe, touch and drag and double tap;
- Understanding icons, how they are used and what they mean;
- Understanding and using input devices: disks (CDs or DVDs) and flash drives (USB memory sticks).
There are various levels of differentiation in the use of computers in early childhood education and includes for example:
- To have opportunity to access computer via touch-screen, mouse or interactive whiteboard;
- To name peripherals –mouse, monitor, keyboard, printer, webcam, scanner, cursor;
- To use touch screen to select icons etc.;
- To use mouse to move cursor – select icons (click) (click and drag) (click, drag, drop).
Digital Literacy for children
Computers, as form of ICT, will no doubt continue to be a part of children’s lives and as such this is why ICT capability or digital literacy for children is a core component of computer knowledge and skills. As children learn to use computers in meaningful subject-related activities they will develop ICT capability which involves more than just ICT techniques but ‘knowing that they know’ these ICT techniques and how to apply them to problems that require them to use the computer and its applications to solve these appropriately.
Digital literacy activities need to well-planned and structured so as to encourage open-ended exploration. Young children are commonly referred to as ‘digital natives’ and so don’t need a lot of encouragement to use computers.
Ideas for DAP activities
Here are some ways that you can use computers in early childhood education:
- Demonstrate uses of the computer to make signs, lists, labels, envelopes, notices etc. for role play;
- Develop children’s creative thinking by following up their interests with them through Internet searches;
- Use peripherals such as scanners, webcams, microphone, camera to make the most of the computer’s creative opportunities;
- With children, add speech bubbles to their photographs and support them in putting what they want to say. With experience children can do this themselves with an Early Years desktop publishing program, allowing them greater opportunities for being creative with their photographs;
- Create cards for celebrations, send e-cards to each other through websites such as CBeebies or Spot the Dog;
- Add photos of the children at play to the screenplayer;
- Use creative methods with the various applications on the computer;
- Model your own creative uses of a computer, and children will quickly join in.
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