Software in the Early Childhood Curriculum

by Patricia Hutinger and Joyce Johanson

Software catalogs are true "wish books." Each software description sounds so appealing, and whenever a new catalog arrives in the mail, a teacher's list of "gotta haves" grows longer. At the same time, funds limit the number of software programs you can purchase, so you must decide which programs will give the most for the money.

Fortunately, like story books and other preschool materials, software has a variety of classroom uses. While software can be used to introduce a new curricular topic to the children, it can also expand a curricular theme.

Software plays many roles in the early childhood curriculum. It supports concepts and develops skills (e.g., literacy or problem solving). Some software may help children understand other cultures (Imo and the King [African] or Liam Finds a Song [Irish]) while other software allows children to explore characters and situations in their favorite books. Useful software titles contain several activities that can be used for varying purposes to meet different children's needs. For example, Thinkin' Things contains comparison and problem solving activities, pattern and sequence activities, as well as creative activities and activities to develop critical thinking skills.

Off-computer activities complement the information the software presents. Characters, activities, themes, and concepts introduced in software can be expanded to encourage knowledge and skill transfer and generalization to other areas. Macomb Projects' demonstration and research site classrooms' teachers have created many curriculum integration ideas based on children's software. Potentially interesting and inviting software-related and integrated learning activities are endless and varied, requiring nothing more than a child's suggestion or an adult's imagination. For instance, when children used Thinkin' Things and became enamored by its Fripple Shop, the teacher helped the class make its own Fripple Store. At first the children made Fripples in the art center out of lunch-sized paper sacks decorated with paint, yarn, glitter, and other materials. Next, they set up a Fripple Store of their own in a large cardboard box in the dramatic play area where they pretended to be clerks, phone message takers, and buyers and sellers. Children played games such as Guess Which Fripple ("I see a Fripple with black hair and blue and pink stripes."). By changing the words to familiar songs (e.g., How Much is That Fripple in the Window?), the teacher made up "Fripple Songs" and the children enjoyed singing them.

Using the "snapshot" computer capability to reproduce computer screens, teachers may print screens to make classroom books, puzzles, and games. Favorite characters in interactive story books may be printed, laminated, and used as finger puppets, play props, art activities, and classroom decorations. Similar screen prints can be laminated and attached to a child's switch to provide switch press cues or images can be added to a nonverbal child's communication board so s/he can indicate choices.

A classroom pancake adventure began in one classroom when the teacher integrated the pancake-making story in Pippi Longstocking. The dramatic play center was transformed into a pancake shop, complete with kitchen for "cooking" the pretend pancakes children made and decorated in the art center. In another 'real' cooking activity, the teacher first created a HyperStudio stack containing written, spoken, and animated directions children could follow to make pancakes. Following the directions, the children made pancake batter that was then cooked by the teacher for snacktime. Afterwards, a graph showing favorite choices of pancake toppings was developed.

If technology is to enhance early childhood experiences, then software containing a variety of components designed to meet children's changing developmental needs is essential. Selecting and finding creative ways to use software to support or initiate curriculum-based or daily activities and childrenšs interests is an important responsibility for early childhood teachers, staff, and family members.

Whether you are considering software to include in the classroom or home software library, evaluate it carefully. As part of the evaluation, explore ways to extend the content of the software beyond direct computer use if you want to provide a creative learning environment for children and, at the same time, get the most value from software purchases.

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