Creative Software Can Extend Children's Expressiveness

by Judy Potter, Joyce Johanson, and Patricia Hutinger

Software can contribute to the effectiveness of an early childhood arts program, providing another media for creative expression. Software that is both developmentally appropriate and interactive is useful in enhancing children's expressiveness. The expressive arts (visual art, music and movement, dramatic play) are a natural and basic part of all young children's lives.

Expressiveness grows as children actively participate in their own learning. When children are given the opportunity to choose materials and ample time in which to complete their activities, they feel as if they have control over their own play. Children can then construct their own realities, freely communicate their feelings and ideas, and make sense of and give meaning to their world. This sense of control is especially important for young children with disabilities who often do not feel in control of their bodies or environments because of their disabling conditions. Through active participation in the expressive arts, children make great strides in the processes of understanding and creating symbols, critical to communication and literacy development. Appropriate, interactive graphics software can contribute to children's creativity and successful participation in expressive arts.

Software Characteristics
Like other appropriate early childhood materials, the best children's software:

  1. is open ended and allows children to explore,
  2. provides problem solving opportunities,
  3. allows the child to control the process,
  4. stimulates the child's interest,
  5. encourages active involvement, and
  6. gives feedback that is effective and non-threatening.
Software should reflect a diverse society, be easy to navigate, and not focus on drill and practice skills or on basic concepts of shapes and colors (Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood Education, 1995).

Developmentally appropriate software
Early childhood software should contain activities that are suitable for the age range and abilities of the children for whom they are designed. The activities included in the program should be meaningful, relevant, interesting and achievable for the child using them, and at the same time, be challenging for the child based on his/her strengths and needs.

The degree of interaction that occurs between the child user and the software program is important. The more interactive the software, the more the child is able to manipulate what happens when the program is used. Highly interactive software offers children opportunities to choose from many options, with a wide range of responses and a greater control of design features. Highly interactive software encourages children to "make things happen," providing them with choices, thereby nurturing and supporting individual learning styles.

Children interacting with developmentally appropriate interactive software tend to be more collaborative and work together in pairs or small groups. As they navigate through programs and problem solve together, they observe, point to the monitor, comment, and make suggestions.

Enhancing Expressiveness with Graphic Software
Kid Pix Studio, Crayola Make a Masterpiece, Disney's Magic Artist, The Art Lesson.
Teachers can document and celebrate children's accomplishments using creative graphic software, such as Kid Pix Studio, Crayola's Make a Masterpiece, and Disney's Magic Artist. These programs have many qualities that extend children's expressiveness, including a large drawing surface, easy-to-access menu of tool choices, color palettes, and tool sound effects. Each also has the capability of creating a slide show of children's saved art works. With this capability, teachers can integrate and adapt expressive arts with technology in the classroom, at their open house, family night, parent-teacher conferences, or as an assessment tool. The Art Lesson, a program based on the children's story of the same title, has similar features but lacks both tool sound effects and slide show capabilities. Teachers can use these graphic programs to make connections between expressive arts, emergent literacy and other areas of the curriculum.

Kid Pix Studio
One classroom's expressive arts activity was based on Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? (Carle & Martin, 1996). After hearing the book, children discussed objects that were brown. Using the Kid Pix drawing tools, each drew pictures of favorite brown things, such as chocolate candy, a squirrel, a monkey, and a chocolate Labrador. Then, with teacher help, each child created his/her own Kid Pix page or "slide." The slide show containing the children's drawings and voices narrating sections of the classroom story resulted in an original classroom version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Copies of the children's slide show were printed, laminated, and bound then placed in the classroom library

is another program that contains a drawing tools. It can be used to produce unique classroom software based on authentic experiences and interests of young children. Children's involvement includes planning the software, gathering materials and making decisions, such as which sounds, images, colors, text, video, links, animation, buttons, and transition effects to use. They can evaluate the results and suggest revisions. Decision making, implementing ideas, and producing stacks (with varying amounts of adult assistance) contributes to children's expressiveness.

One early childhood teacher used the book Color Dance (Jonas, 1989) to develop activities that led to a variety of expressive arts experiences. First she brought a variety of colorful translucent scarves into the classroom. She waved scarves in the air then invited each child to choose a scarf and move it through the air. She read Color Dance then played classical music while the children moved their scarves. She asked children to tell her how the dancers and scarves moved. Children used descriptive words like swaying, swinging, hopping, flipping, flapping, and wrapping. The next step in the activity involved children drawing their own color dance story. Some children used paper, marker, and/or crayons, while others chose to draw with the HyperStudio graphic tools. The teacher scanned the children's drawings as well as photos she took of the activity and created a HyperStudio stack which allowed children to revisit their experience with the color dance activities. She printed the stack, laminated and bound the pages, and put the book in the class library where it was shelved beside the original book by Ann Jonas.

This teacher's use of HyperStudio to record and supplement the color dance activity resulted in software that related an experience unique to this class. The software contained pictures of children involved in the activities, their words, and their drawings. Using the software, children could revisit and built upon their "color dance" experiences.

Adaptations for Children with Physical Disabilities
With appropriate adaptations and software, young children with disabilities can participate in their own learning. A slide show was created, using Kid Pix Studio, from scanned photos of James and his off-computer artwork, plus his Kid Pix drawings and paintings. James, a 7 year old child with multiple disabilities, made images on the computer using Kid Pix and adaptive peripherals. By trying different adaptations, such as a Big Red switch, a Touch Window, and kidDraw, the teacher discovered that kidDraw (with an overlay simulating the Kid Pix draw screen) was the tool that James could use most successfully. Drawing with kidDraw, a draw tablet, is much like drawing on a Magna Doodle. A stylus is attached to the right or left side of the draw tablet, and the drawing surface is so touch sensitive that even a very light touch creates a line that appears on the monitor. James was able to make the connection between his movements with the stylus and the marks that appeared on the computer screen. As he worked, he told the teacher, "Draw." James also knew when he was successful and exclaimed, "Did it!" to let others know he was pleased with his work.

When teachers integrate creative and interactive software into their developmentally appropriate curriculum, children have opportunities to extend expressiveness. Using graphics software provides opportunities for young children to create marks and symbols, communicate, and interact with others. Assistive technology offers young children with physical disabilities access to the same or similar developmentally appropriate, child centered, integrated expressive arts activities engaged in by children without disabilities.

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