In our preschool classroom, we have a Mac. I’m a PC User, so I am a bit Apple illiterate. In fact, I pretty much only use our classroom computer when I have to access files I need on the district’s network. I can’t access the network from my laptop, so to the Mac I go. I know there are many different opinions on which platform is better. I’m not trying to start an Apple vs PC debate. I’m simply stating my personal preference. Apple seems to have the monopoly on school hardware, education apps, etc., so I have to go with what I’m given in that setting.
The upside of having a computer (of any kind) in the classroom, is that we have a way to help our preschoolers build their computer skills! We were given a pack of literacy games from Lakeshore Learning. While there is a logical order in which these games should be introduced, I didn’t realize that until we were a couple months into the school year. Let’s just say, I did NOT introduce them in the most logical order!
Anyway, my assistant teacher (really my Co-Teacher, as things would not go as smoothly as they do without her) and I, decided it would make the most sense to have the computer center be open in the 4-5 year old classes, and not the 3-4 year old preschool classes. There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that we have more time (an extra half an hour) in the 4-5 year old classes. Also, we spend a lot of time working on name writing in the 4-5 year old classes, so they can write their own name on the sign up sheet we have at the computer.
The first time we introduced each game, I had all the children sit around the computer, and walked them through how to play the game. I showed them the words they needed to click, focusing on the letter the words started with. While the games we got had some great elements, actually getting to the games were not the most preschool-friendly. It required some reading, and even some words the children were not all familiar with (such as “begin”). The up-side, is that it gave us another opportunity to look at words and their starting letters. The computer games, in combination with our “question of the day” in which we did many yes/no questions, helped so that most of our preschoolers were able to read at least the words “yes” and “no” by the end of the year!
What I took for granted, was the assumption that our preschoolers had previous computer experience. We teach in an area where much of the population is middle class to upper middle class. Our preschoolers tell us all about their ipads, etc. (often a Leap Pad, which is now modeled after a tablet computer, and can even take pictures). Often, while children are waiting in the hall for us to open the door to signal the beginning of class, we see them sitting around tablets or phones, watching shows or playing games. You can see how I might come to the conclusion that most of our children would have computer experience. This was not the case. Touch screen experience, yes, computer/mouse experience, not so much.
The first week we had the computer center open, I spent both days (we meet two days/week) sitting at the computer, teaching the preschoolers basic computer/mouse skills. Some of them knew what to do and didn’t need me. Many of them had no clue how to move the mouse. Some of the children were trying to use their finger on the monitor to make their move. One 4 year old, was actually lifting the mouse in the air to try to move the cursor. While it was a little comical, it was also an eye opener. Even children with “computer/technology experience” may not know the basics.
As with anything else we teach in preschool, we need to start with a very basic introduction. We need to tell them the parts of the computer and mouse. Show them how the mouse works. Show them which side of the mouse is the top (our mouse is basically a rounded off rectangle, so we put a star sticker on the top, and told them that’s where they click). Make sure they know it’s ok to ask for help if they’re not sure what to do, or it’s not working like they thought.
We introduced the computer center around December. By the end of the school year, most of them were pretty independent at playing the games we made available.
How our Computer Center was set up
We had a small table just long enough for the computer and printer. There was a large piece of material to drape over the whole thing for the days our 3-4 year olds were there, or just the printer when we weren’t using it. We had a STOP sign taped to it as a reminder when the area was closed. There were 2 chairs at the table, one for “the player”, and one for “the watcher.” We also had the keyboard (which is not needed for the games we have, so I often tucked it behind the computer), the mouse, a digital timer, and a clip board with a sign up sheet. The player is the person at the top of the list, the watcher is the next person on the list. The watcher not only gets to help the player if they need or want help, but is also responsible for pressing the start/stop button on the timer. Each child gets 5 minutes for his/her turn. For most of the games, 5 minutes will get them through 1-2 complete games. Children who struggle with the skill the game is working on (such as rhyming or syllables), they might not quite get through 1 whole game. In that case, I would usually tell them to finish their game before the next person’s turn.
Here’s an interesting article I found that touches on the topic. I’m not saying I agree with everything this article says, but I thought it was interesting, and worth sharing. You can form your own opinion: Toddlers & Tablets article.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire has an app called: Kindle Free Time. I thought this was pretty cool for parents of younger children. I love the idea of limiting the amount of time they can play games or watch videos, but allow for unlimited reading time. That’s the one reason I have a hard time with kids having kindle fires… they aren’t using them for reading (at least not most of the time)!
I’d love to hear your thoughts/experiences with children and computers.