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Children will benefit most from technology use if software is integrated into the preschool curriculum. The learning environment should not be confined to the boundaries of the computer center; it should extend to all areas of the classroom. Using everyday materials along with specialized materials, such as specialty printer papers, early childhood staff can create off-computer activities to be used throughout the different classroom centers. In this way content from software is extended into all areas of the curriculum.
Although curriculum integration is discussed in journals and at educational conferences, it is hard to find one definition that encompasses the broad scope of what integration really is. Based on extensive experience in using software in the classroom and researching the effects of technology on young children, The Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood defines technology integration in the following way.
Computer-related activities encourage the transfer and generalization of skills and concepts, complimenting the knowledge gained at the computer. In turn, computer activities can be used to reinforce concepts taught in another area of the curriculum. Integrating the computer into the preschool classroom will take some time. Designing computer and computer-related activities that reinforce skills will help early childhood staff use the computer as an integral part of the curriculum.
Materials can be designed for use prior to, during, or following the computer activity. Many children can relate to objects and concepts when they have manipulatives, figures or books with which to play. Off-computer materials may also be items which children can take home and share with their families.
Computer-related activities facilitate movement to computer activities. Some concepts will be easier for the children to understand because of their computer-related experiences. The child's first experience with the computer should be fun. Programs that respond to any key press or a mouse click offer an opportunity for instant success. Challenges can be made as children show intent for what they do and understand that they are in control of what the computer is doing.
Children with multiple disabilities can participate in computer-related activities. Children who are candidates for alternate input or switch control benefit by learning to use a switch with battery operated toys. Switches and toys can be sent home easily and are enjoyable. Appropriate switch types should be discussed with parents and a physical therapist. Once children have an idea of how and when to use the switch, they will be able to use the switch to operate programs at the computer.
There are many creative ways that software can be used other than is specified in the documentation. Early childhood staff should consider a program's use for each individual child since it is rare that a teacher can use a program in the same way with all of the children. To facilitate social and communication skills, children with similar IEP goals can be grouped together as partners or in a small group for computer activities; then periodically more experienced children can be grouped with novice computer children to act as peer tutors.
Integrating the computer into the preschool classroom can be challenging, but the results of your efforts are so rewarding. Develop your own ideas for creating the computer learning environment in the classroom as you work with the children. Consider some of the ideas presented here for developing a problem solving approach in your classroom. Try some of the teaching techniques to organize and produce computer and computer-related activities of your own which allow children to participate actively in the learning process. Many of the activities you are now using in your classroom will probably adapt easily to the computer.