Digitized Preschools: Pre-K Technology Use Gains Ground
Smart Boards, computers, iPads, flip cameras and robots. Sounds like you’ve just entered an electronics store, but this actually describes many preschool classrooms in the Triangle as they begin to embrace technology.
Adults use technology daily — from smartphones to laptops — to access information at a moment’s notice. Now many preschools are using those same resources to teach their young students the ins and outs of technology.
On a normal day at International Preschool of Raleigh, you’ll see Smart Boards, computers and iPads in the classrooms. Pre-K students tweet family members via individual iPads and Skype with authors and students around the world.
“Technology opens up the world for them,” says Head of School Anne Aherne-Daly. “Information is at their fingertips and readily accessible — and opens them up to everything. It has a huge creative power.”
Children in one of the school’s classes created paper masks, took photos of the masks and tweeted the photos to friends and family, who in turn provided feedback. This safely exposed children to connecting with others, and they enjoyed receiving immediate feedback. Aherne-Daly says this type of project encourages reading, spelling and communication, and also creates an electronic portfolio for the students.
Smart Boards were installed in the classrooms six years ago when the school opened. These interactive whiteboards allow for visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning. “The students are connected with their learning and it touches all three senses,” Aherne-Daly says. “The more you engage the students, the more they learn.”
Kelly Monce of Raleigh, whose children all attended International Preschool of Raleigh, says introducing technology like Smart Boards in preschool prepares students for what they will see and use in elementary school. “They are going to continue to see technology, so the earlier they are exposed to this medium of learning, the better, and the more prepared they will be for the future,” she says.
Technology allows teachers to teach in different ways to reach all students. Monce says her children — 9-year-old Benjamin, 5-year-old Jacob and 4-year-old Eleanor — thrived in this setting.
Flip Cameras and Robots
The Discovery Child Development Center in Morrisville operates on a project-based learning approach, but Director Alex Livas-Dlott incorporates technology into the classroom when it can enhance projects and knowledge for children. For example, when students were tasked with creating books, they watched an iPad video about how paper is made. The students then made individual books and worked as a group to create one digital book, which incorporated technology and cooperation.
When students go on field trips, they might use digital and flip video cameras to document their experiences, then watch the video on their classroom computer. Students also participate in electronic learning programs and educational games offered by Lakeshore, an educational resource company.
Sujata Rajaram, a pre-K teacher at Discovery Child Development Center, says technology complements her classroom curriculum, but doesn’t replace it. “Sometimes the visual is great for children,” she says. “They can come up with ideas and it helps with their projects. They love playing games, rhyming, doing letter sounds and numbers on the computer. It helps them to learn the facts, but it is not the main focus. Technology complements the learning.”
Rajaram uses Bee-Bot, a programmable floor robot, to challenge her pre-K students in the spring once they have matured enough to handle the tougher curriculum. She selects Bee-Bot programs that introduce students to new math skills that involve estimation and critical thinking, for example.
At Benson Memorial United Methodist Preschool in Raleigh, technology makes up a small component of the classroom, where 4-year-old students use older computers on a limited basis during center time. Teacher Christine Joyner says just learning to use the mouse and keyboard is important for her students, since many of them are used to touch screens on iPads and other devices. Keyboard typing reinforces learning numbers and letters, too, she says.
Joyner often uses the computer to present her students with educational programs focused on skills or topics they are studying at that time, such as the alphabet or numbers. Students typically work together to navigate through the programs, which promotes collaboration. Joyner says Living Books — animated and interactive storybooks — are a favorite in her classroom.
As your child dives into technology at school, use her experiences to complement and guide your exploration of technology at home.
“Don’t be afraid of screen time at school because it is very different from screen time at home,” Monce says. “There is a difference between your child sitting and doing what he wants versus being at school where it’s teacher-directed and is a learning tool.”
Together, you and your child’s preschool can prepare her for the technology she will continue to face throughout the next 13 years of her academic journey.
Michele Jonczak is a mother of two boys and a freelance writer from Raleigh.