ERIC Identifier: ED327295
Publication Date: 1983-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Urbana IL.
Microcomputers and Young Children. Short Report.
Not too long ago an Apple was a fruit, a Pet was a cat or dog, and computers
were strictly for adults. Today in some classrooms, a preschooler may learn
to discriminate between "above" and "below" on an Apple microcomputer,
a first grader might check his spelling on a Commodore Pet, and a second
grader might practice arithmetic problems on her classroom's TRS-80. Awareness
of research relating to such computer applications, as well as insight
into these applications themselves, is becoming essential for teachers,
program planners, and others involved with young children.
RESEARCH ON CHILDREN AND COMPUTERS
While extensive research on microcomputers and young children is yet
to come, Hallworth and Brebner (1980) have reviewed studies of the effects
on children grade school age and older of using lessons made available
on large mainframe computer systems (such as PLATO and TICCIT). Their report
indicates that, in basic skills, subjects tested were able to learn as
well using computers as they did using more conventional materials and
methods--and that they enjoyed learning in this manner. Self-pacing of
learning and computer feedback on progress were found to be two of the
motivational factors in computer-assisted learning.
Working with an Apple II microcomputer, Ann Piestrup (1981) taught 3-
and 4-year-olds the concepts of "above/below" and "right/left." Both teachers
and students were enthusiastic about the experiment, and criterion tests
on four reading-skill concepts showed children improved after a 3-week
period using the computer lessons.
Also specifically investigating the effects of a microcomputer application,
Hungate (1982) worked with economically disadvantaged kindergarten children,
employing a Commodore Pet program to teach basic mathematics and visual
discrimination, and to provide name and telephone number practice. While
Hungate's sample was small, results indicated children who used the computer
improved their skills more rapidly that those who did not.
Recently, Sheingold (1983) has suggested that computer programs can
be effectively used to reinforce the symbolic aspects of lessons children
have already experienced in other forms (such as when a simulation of the
development of a chick within an egg accompanies an in-class incubation
project with real eggs). Yet other researchers have pointed out that children
may even gain a sense of power through controlling their own learning on
computers (Damarin, 1982; Paisley & Chen, 1982).
Despite the relatively new status of research on the effects of microcomputer
use, teachers and administrators of programs for young children need to
become aware of the various ways in which computers may be used with this
group. The following categories are not intended to be exhaustive, but
rather to suggest some of the more important ways computers are presently
Computer literacy. The primary goal of any use of computers with young
children might be considered computer literacy (i.e. teaching children
what computers can do and how to use them). Computer literacy can include
teaching children how to use the computer as a tool (a medium with which
to calculate, draw, or write), as a tutor (to provide instruction), as
a tutee (to be programmed), or as a combination of these three (Taylor,
Computer assisted instruction (CAI). When the computer is used as a
tutor, concepts, information, or skills normally presented through conventional
teaching methods are taught by computer. For example, 4- or 5-year-old
children can learn the alphabet, counting, or how to discriminate between
similar and different objects by interacting with a computer programmed
to present information, receive responses, and offer new information based
on the children's responses.
Computer programming. One of the reasons given for teaching young children
to program (in other words, to learn to use a computer language to give
the computer instructions) is to promote computer literacy and to prepare
children for a computer-oriented future. Another reason for teaching children
to program is related to cognitive development. Specifically, programming
requires the child who works with the computer to do certain things: to
appreciate the fact that there may be many ways to solve a problem, analyze
a task, pose alternative solutions to problems, understand how to sequence
instructions, and use logic. These kinds of skills are viewed as valuable
in themselves and may be generalizable to situations and learning experiences
other than those involving computers.
Computer art. A teacher working with young children may introduce computers
to them by illustrating how the computer can be used to draw pictures or
designs. Children (like many adults) appear to be fascinated by computer
graphics and quickly learn the instructions or activities necessary to
create their own designs and pictures. The computer used in this manner
functions as a very powerful tool or medium for expression. As children
become more skilled, they are able to produce valuable and interesting
art based on increasingly complex programs. Through using computer graphics,
children gain personal satisfaction as well as an increased understanding
of design, composition, and use of color (Piestrup, 1982).
Word processing. Primary school children can use computers as tools
to create their own text and to practice writing and reading. Word processing
programs can encourage young children to experiment with language as well
as to record their own writing ("Classroom Computer News Forum." 1982).
Administrative uses. Although not part of children's direct involvement
with computers, administrative uses of computers may free educators from
routine record keeping to spend more time in instructional activities and
at the same time help them to develop computer literacy. Computers in schools
are frequently used for accounting, reports, word processing, attendance
or personnel records, and budget preparation or management.
Given appropriate software, all of these applications could be handled
on a single microcomputer, a possibility illustrating the microcomputer's
versatility. As educators increase their knowledge of computer technology,
they will be better able to choose appropriate applications for specific
instructional settings. Principals, teachers, and program planners need
computer skills and experience if they are to become involved in determining
classroom policy, making plans for integrating computer use into existing
curricula, and developing and critically reviewing educational software
The text of this Short Report was adapted from sections of a paper by
Mima Spencer and Linda Baskin, "Microcomputers in Early Childhood Education."
(ED 277 967); the paper will also be published in CURRENT TOPICS IN EARLY
CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, Vol. 5. Lilian G. Katz (Ed.), Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing
Corporation, in press.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Classroom Computer News Forum--Word processing: How will it shape the
student as writer? CLASSROOM COMPUTER NEWS, 1982. 3(2), 24-27.
Hallworth, H.J., and Brebner, A. Computer assisted instruction in schools:
Achievements, present developments, and projections for the future. Calgary,
Canada: Calgary University, 1980. (ED 200 187)
Damarin, S.K. The impact of computer technology on children. Symposium
presented at the American Society for Information Science Conference on
the Impact of Computer Technology on Children, Columbus, Ohio, 1982.
Hungate, H. Computers in the kindergarten. THE COMPUTING TEACHER, January
Paisley, W., and Chen, M. Children and electronic text: Challenge and
opportunities of the "New Literacy." Stanford, CA. Stanford University
Institute for Communication Research, 1982. (ED 225 530)
Piestrup, A.M. Preschool children use Apple II to test reading skills
programs, 1981. (ED 202 476)
Piestrup, A.M. Young children use computer graphics. HARVARD COMPUTER
GRAPHICS WEEK (Harvard University Graduate School of Design), 1982. (ED
Sheingold, K. Young children in our technological society: The impact
of microcomputers. Speech presented at the University of Maryland Conference
on Young Children in Our Technological Environment, Baltimore, Maryland,
Taylor, R.P. (Ed.). THE COMPUTER IN THE SCHOOL: TUTOR, TOOL, TUTEE.
New York: Teachers College Press, 1980.