ERIC Identifier: ED438926
Publication Date: 2000-03-00
Author: Haugland, Susan W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Champaign IL.
Computers and Young Children. ERIC Digest.
Whether we use technology with young children--and if so, how-are critical
issues facing early childhood educators and parents. This Digest discusses
questions about when children should start using computers; developmentally
appropriate computer activities in preschool, kindergarten, and early primary
classrooms; benefits of computer use; integration of computers into classrooms;
and teacher training.
WHEN TO INTRODUCE CHILDREN TO COMPUTERS
Many researchers do not recommend that children under 3 years old use
computers (e.g., Hohman, 1998). Computers simply do not match their learning
style. Children younger than 3 learn through their bodies: their eyes,
ears, mouths, hands, and legs. Although they may return over and over again
to an activity, they are full of movement, changing focus frequently. Computers
are not a good choice for the developmental skills these children are learning
to master: crawling, walking, talking, and making friends.
DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE COMPUTER ACTIVITIES
Unfortunately, computers are used all too often in ways that are developmentally
inappropriate. One study (U.S. Congress, 1995) found that while "schools
are steadily increasing their access to new technologies . . . most teachers
use these technologies in traditional ways, including drills in basic skills
and instructional games" (p. 103). Clements (1994) makes a similar point,
noting, "What we as early childhood educators are presently doing most
often with computers is what research and NAEYC guidelines say we should
be doing least often" (p. 33).
Papert (1998) stresses that computers have an impact on children when
the computer provides concrete experiences, children have free access and
control the learning experience, children and teachers learn together,
teachers encourage peer tutoring, and teachers use computers to teach powerful
Developmentally appropriate ways to use computers with 3- and 4-year-olds
are different from the ways we use computers in kindergarten and the primary
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 doing, the teacher can ask probing questions or propose
problems to enhance and expand children's computer experiences.
COMPUTERS FOR KINDERGARTNERS AND EARLY PRIMARY
CHILDREN. 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
Children could also work in small groups using 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 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, use knowledge until they have
a clear understanding from multiple sources, 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,
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
In addition, computers enhance 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,
INTEGRATION OF COMPUTERS INTO THE CLASSROOM
Early childhood programs serve diverse populations and have different
schedules, curriculums, staffing patterns, resources, and so on. Goals
for computer use and the steps that schools take to integrate computers
into their classrooms may be completely different but equally successful.
A viable beginning is for teachers, administrators, and parents to share
magazine, journal, and newspaper articles they have seen regarding children
using computers. A study group of all the individuals who have expressed
interest in children using computers can then be organized. The next step
is to summarize the benefits of using computers with young children and
to discuss goals for the year, including the cost of computers and teacher
A first goal may be obtaining computers. The ratio of computers to young
children is important--at most 1 to 7, preferably 1 to 5. If this ratio
cannot be met with the resources available, it is far better to use a set
of computers in a classroom for a month, quarter, or semester and then
rotate them to another classroom. Equal access for children is essential;
even the most talented teacher will have difficulty integrating computers
into his or her classroom with only one computer.
To help in computer selection, the study group can seek out mentors
who have expertise using computers. These mentors might be teachers currently
using computers, a professor at a college, or leaders in business. The
study group may also want to brainstorm possible fund-raising activities
and explore the possibility of obtaining used computers from businesses-making
sure the computers have the capacity to run software that is currently
being marketed for young children.
Teacher training is essential for computers to be an effective teaching
tool. A recent report reveals that only a few teachers in a relatively
small number of schools have been trained to maximize technology use in
classrooms (Gatewood & Conrad, 1997). Training opportunities enable
teachers to build skills and confidence and learn strategies to integrate
computers into their curriculum. Epstein (1993) identified four critical
components of training: practical experience, workshops, models and mentors,
and supervisory follow-up.
As a first step, teachers can explore software that is developmentally
appropriate for their classrooms. Teachers can then discuss the potential
learning objectives of the programs and activities they could use to integrate
particular software in their classrooms. Teachers can also participate
in workshops that integrate the developmental theory and research regarding
computer use with hands-on experiences. Mentors can also provide teachers
with affirmation, support, and suggestions for classroom use.
As teachers implement technology into the classroom, their vision of
the role of technology in teaching and learning will undoubtedly change.
Administrators need to continually support teachers in their quest to discover
how technology can best enhance children's learning.
Condensed by permission from Susan W. Haugland, "What Role Should Technology
Play in Young Children's Learning?" Young Children, 54(6), 26-31. Copyright
1999 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. PS
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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