The Effective Use of Computers with Young Children
Stepping Stone School recently made a major investment in new computer hardware and learning software which has been installed in every three year old through school age classroom at each campus. The use of computers with young children has been intensely studied since the early 1980s. Research has taught us that technology can change the way children think, what they learn, and how they interact with their peers and adults. It can also be used to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. That is why Stepping Stone School has been a pioneer in the placement of personal computers in classrooms for the past 15 years.
Research has also demonstrated that very young children have shown comfort and confidence in using computers. They can turn them on, follow pictorial directions, and use situational and visual cues to understand and reason about their activity. Typing on the keyboard does not cause them any trouble; in fact, it seems to be a source of pride. Besides enhancing their mobility and sense of control, computers can help improve self-esteem.
Young students make significant learning gains using computer-assisted instruction software. More specifically, the type of software that presents a task to children, asks them for a response, and provides feedback. Using programs that allow the creation of pictures with geometric shapes, children have demonstrated growing knowledge and competence in working with concepts such as symmetry, patterns and spatial order.
Computers serve as catalysts for social interaction. Children prefer to work with a friend rather than alone, and they make new friends around the computer. Software involving cooperative interaction can improve children’s social behavior and computers can provide an advanced cognitive type of play.
At Stepping Stone School we select learning software very carefully. Discovery-based software that encourages and allows ample room for exploration is the most valuable. Software must challenge children to solve meaningful problems and it should encourage multiple solution strategies. We believe that having young children use computers in new ways – to pose and solve problems, draw and do basic geometry – can help them learn and develop mathematically and scientifically.