How to teach concepts to preschoolers when integrating technology with ease

How to teach concepts to preschoolers

By Michael Hilkemeijer

This is an extract from my online workshop for preschool teachers titled "Intentional Teaching Practices" that you can gain instant access to as a member of my ICT in Education Teacher Academy for just $5.99 per month. In this PD workshop, you will also receive lesson plans and activity ideas to apply the following teaching strategies for technology integration in early childhood education.


If you work in the EYFS or EYLF settings, planning for and interacting with young children enables you to set out your environment to maximise the opportunities for learning to take place.


This is not a simple template for daily use of a space with young children.


It is an early childhood learning environment that is underpinned by the knowledge of how children develop skills along with exploring and growing in understanding of key concepts.


There are many valuable concepts that a child in preschool should know in order for them to be able to listen and follow instructions or directions.


With the successful integration of digital technology in preschool activities conceptual understanding can also be achieved and in this video, I will show you what the key concepts are when you are either incorporating it into play-based learning or intentionally teaching it.


You will learn what the building blocks are that you need to look for and what you can do if a child has difficulty in understanding key concepts when integrating digital technology in early childhood education today.


Understanding Conceptual Development 

What are concepts?

Concepts help children to understand direction, location, position, number, quantity, sequence, attributes, dimensions, size and similarities and differences.


When integrating digital technology in early childhood education either through play-based learning or intentional practices concepts or conceptual understanding underpins the learning of ICT techniques and enables the transfer of learning.


It is often easier to use an ICT technique than it is to describe or explain it but by making ICT techniques explicit it is likely to support concept development and the possible transfer of ICT techniques to new situations.


While the ICT techniques are underpinned by concepts, their application depends on the features and structure offered by the technology as well.


Concept Informal meaning
File A unit of data that can be saved.
Window An area of the screen that can display part of a file.
Menu A list of options that can be displayed and selected.
Text A continuous string of characters, including formatting codes.
Object Something that can be selected, formatted, moved, resized, copied, deleted, and transferred to other locations.
Presentation A set of text and objects animated suitably for communication in screen form.
Publication A set of text and objects positioned suitably for communication in printed form.
Database structure A store of data that can be searched and selected information displayed.
Model A representation amongst variables.
Spreadsheet A grid each cell of which can contain a value or a formula.
Hypertext structure A set of text and objects containing links that allow quick access to chosen options.
Procedure A sequence of instructions that achieve a specific result.
Monitoring process A system that records data automatically from sensors at intervals of time.
Message A set of text and objects together with a destination and return address.
Website A hypertext structure that can be accessed  remotely from any location.

Fundamental concepts underlying ICT Capability in Early Childhood Education (Kennewell et. al, 2000)


Why is understanding concepts important?

It is important for young children to understand different concepts as it assists them in their ability to follow instructions and be able to be more specific in what they are talking about. Concepts play a key role in a child’s spoken language, therefore, as it helps them to understand what concepts are and what they mean. As a result, young children participating in early childhood learning activities that involve ICT can follow instructions in a better way.


An example of a key concept for a child to learn when integrating digital technology in an early childhood learning activity would be understanding the basic terminology or the basic shared vocabulary that enables the child to communicate and understand what is required of them.


It is, therefore, important to always emphasise conceptual understanding otherwise the use of computers in schools will always be limited.


Conceptual understanding in technology integration in early childhood education refers to the schemata or mental models that young children develop about computer systems.


The degree of abstraction characteristic of such mental models relates to the extent to which they be applied to a range of differing ICT systems and there is evidence that abstract mental models support the transfer of knowledge and understanding, and thus underlie the development of ICT capabilities in intentional practices or play-based learning.


Additionally, if young children are to apply their ICT capabilities to goals in new contexts, then they need to be able to reflect on their own and others’ usage, generalise concepts and have opportunities to make decisions.


If a child is developing ICT capability then they should be able to meet new software with a positive attitude and an inclination to explore meaning that they are able to use the concepts which they have developed from their experiences with other software, such as an object that can be selected, or a handle that can be dragged, and explore the new software and work out what to do next as they proceed.



What are the building blocks necessary to develop conceptual understanding?

There are four aspects that are significant in being able to help young children learn key concepts.

  1. Hearing: A child needs to have adequate hearing abilities to ensure that they can hear appropriate language models, and therefore use appropriate language.
  2. Attention and concentration: Sustained effort, doing activities without distraction and being able to hold that effort long enough to get the task done.
  3. Play skills: Voluntary engagement in self motivated activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment where the activities may be, but are not necessarily, goal oriented.
  4. Receptive (understanding) language: Comprehension of language. Understanding of language develops before expressive language. In order to be able to use language appropriately, a child first needs to be able to understand the specific language area. The difference between what a child understands and what they can say is about 5:1 between the ages of 2-3½ years (i.e. the child knows a lot more than what they can say).



How do concepts work when integrating technology?

The development of ICT capability in early childhood learning activities goes beyond just ICT techniques and conceptual understanding. It also involves higher order thinking skills, processes and routines.

When meeting a particular ICT concept in the preschool technology activity of a certain context children tend to apply their more informal knowledge of the idea or to assume that the idea is similar to something with which they are already familiar. This is known as a misconception and children's errors and inefficient processes will often indicate that their concepts are naïve.


The terminology associated with ICT techniques and concepts is important. Never write it off as mere jargon as it is necessary to have specific terms for the key concepts and common ICT techniques in order to be able to communicate with others about one's work with ICT.


The relationship between these different elements can be best explained with this example.


If a child was using a desktop publishing package to produce a publication of some type you would expect a sequence of techniques like this:

  • Selecting the page to work on;
  • Creating a number of frames;
  • Entering text into frames;
  • Selecting the text style;
  • Importing images into frames and;
  • Adjusting size/position of frames.


But as I said, the process goes beyond following a predetermined sequence of techniques.


Think about the types of decisions the child would have to make in relation to these ICT techniques. As a result, the child has to use higher order thinking skills.


It is in using these higher order thinking skills, in order to make choices as to how to apply the ICT techniques that they have learned, that enable the child to execute the process, and in so doing the child demonstrates their ICT capability.


In another example, a child learning to cut and paste text in a word processor would be able to understand this concept as it is very similar to what they do on paper. You might have to reassure a child that the writing has not disappeared for good.



How can you tell if the child has problems understanding concepts?

There are a number of ways in which you can tell if a child is having difficulty understanding the concepts presented when integrating digital technology throughout the curriculum or during play-based learning. Here are some of the things that you need to look out for.


  • Struggling to follow instructions containing concepts.
  • Use incorrect concepts in their expressive language.
  • Not able to be specific when talking and has a tendency to use vague statements.


How to teach concepts in preschool?

As a component of ICT capability, conceptual development typically occurs through the verbalisation of activities and by the reflection of the ICT experiences. This is especially so in the experiences that are carefully structured by you as the teacher to engage the learner explicitly with examples and non-examples of the concept.


Other successful teaching strategies in early childhood education include setting up manual tasks that represented the concepts involved in an aspect of ICT such as giving instructions in a sequence.


You could also plan for a whole-class briefing to teach ICT concepts and use these to clarify the task, generate ideas, and demonstrate ICT techniques. It is also easier in the long run for children if you can say "click on the print button" and check on the option in dialogue box rather than "use the mouse to move the pointer to the little picture that means what you want to do, press the left button, find the option you need in the extra box" etc.


Examples of this can be found in many of my online training for early childhood educators.


It is important that you challenge naïve ideas about handling ICT techniques both in whole-class teaching and when appropriate, when you are monitoring the progress of individuals.


For example:

When a child uses spaces to spread out text on a line or page, you need to show the effect of adding text so that the spaces move to a different position in the line.




If the child is using the backspace key to delete back to an earlier mistake and re-type, you need to set a task requiring the editing of previously composed text to achieve a different goal.


Finally, reflection is a vital element in concept development and you can assist children in a reflective write-up activity to help them to focus their thinking on the principles they have met.



If you are to truly integrate ICT effectively into your early childhood curriculum rather than add it on as an extra activity, then you will need to have a good understanding of these ICT concepts and their relation to other areas of the curriculum.


Here is an example of how you can teach numeracy in early childhood education while at the same time supporting very important conceptual developments in ICT.



Example of ICT Questioning Example of Maths knowledge Questioning
Which graph shows the information best? Do most children walk to school? How do we know?
What did we have to do after entering each space of information? How many more children walk to school than come by car?
How did we add to the file the next day? What would happen if it were a wet day?

(Allen, Potter, Sharp, Turvey, 2012, p.54)


What can you do to improve conceptual understanding?

ICT in preschool activities has much to offer the young child which is liberating, supports their conceptual development and puts them firmly in control.


How then can you improve conceptual understanding with ICT when you determine if they have difficulties such as following instructions, drawing pictures, problem-solving and even literacy and playing skills such as being voluntarily engaged in self-motivated activities that is normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment.


You can do the following things:

  • Modelling grammar – if they say something that is grammatically incorrect you can model the correct grammar to use.
  • Demonstrate an ICT technique – physically modelling how something is done is valuable as they can see what the concept within the instruction looks like.
  • Describe what you are doing and why – talk to them about what you are doing and the reasons behind it.
  • Emphasise the word you want the child to learn – by doing this and repeating the concept in a variety of situations/settings, the child will see the different ways in which a concept can be used.




By ensuring that ICT techniques are applied in a variety of situations and contexts you will be able to help children to reflect on their ICT experiences and grow their conceptual understanding.


ICT techniques are supported by the progressive understanding of key concepts and general ICT principles, which enable ICT capable children to explore confidently when solving problems.


It is by encouraging young children to reflect on their use of ICT techniques across contexts such as literacy, numeracy and science, for example, that we enable them to generate principles, ideas and strategies that are widely applicable.


Preschool technology activities

Preschool Technology Activity

In this online workshop for preschool teachers, I discuss a case study that involves teaching concepts to preschoolers when introducing the key idea of ICT being used to create pictures.


It begins with examples of pictures created using ICT that can either be from the Internet or you can produce them especially for the lesson.


You prompt the children to discuss some features of the pictures and how they are different from pictures produced using traditional methods. It might be an idea to present the artwork on a large screen to have the biggest impact so incorporating presentation software and a projector would be handy.


Encourage the children to look for the different ICT techniques that have been used and to suggest which tools has been used. Ask prompting questions such as:


“How do we know that the pictures have been produced using ICT?”


“How are the colours, lines etc different from/similar to the pictures produced using non-ICT methods?”


“Are there some things that we can/cannot do using a painting program that can/cannot be done using traditional methods?”


You would then have a series of lessons to introduce ICT techniques such as:

  • Select and use simple mark-making tools.
  • To use the flood fill tool to create highlights of colours.
  • Select and use the straight line, geometric shapes and flooded fill tools.
  • To use ‘save as’.


In this instance, you should ensure adequate time and attention is given to the development of conceptual understanding. Some important teaching points to remember include:

  • Ask the children to use the pen and flood fill tool to create lines and colours to express their themes such as ‘headlights in the city’. Alternatively, children could provide their own titles which convey how they have used lines and colours.
  • Ask them to experiment with colour using the flood fill tool. They could create warm colour patterns, cool pictures and pictures in which one colour is made to stand out from the others. Display the work and discuss the results.
  • Discuss the differences between light and colour when viewed on screen and in print, using two examples of the same picture. Introduce the idea of ‘painting with light’. Ask them to use the flood fill tool to create a black screen and then to use mark-making tools and various colours to explore the quality of light and colour on the screen.

(Potter & Darbyshire, 2009, p. 134)


So try out this preschool technology activity today. Download it as a member of the Academy now for just $5.99 per month (cancel anytime).