Technology in Early Childhood-Planning and Learning about Community Environments (TEChPLACEs) was funded in 1997 by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Technology, Educational Media, and Materials for Individuals with Disabilities Program. The major goal of the 2-year project was to provide an innovative tool process and a state-of-the-art instructional environment for children from 3 through 8 years of age with a wide range of disabilities across ages, classrooms, and locations, as they constructed their own communities and participated in building a cooperative community on an Internet site.

The TEChPLACEs' technology-based learning environment provided a potent learning tool that taught children and teachers to use communication technology as they learned about the varied content that comprises communities.

TEChPLACEs involved collaboration among Macomb Projects (now the Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood) at Western Illinois University, and teachers and children from four rural school districts (a preschool for children with disabilities, two inclusive kindergarten classrooms, and an inclusive first grade classroom). During Year 1, a graphics arts teacher and his students from the LaMoine Valley Vocational System (LVVS a consortium of 13 school districts designed to prepare high school students for future careers) also participated.

Through participation in the project, teachers gained confidence in the use of technology and familiarity with the Internet and web construction applications. They involved administrators in the project and incorporated the computer into the daily curriculum more than they ever had previously. Teaching styles evolved into a more child-directed approach, and teachers used questioning techniques to guide children's thinking. Teachers sought ways to access or acquire digital cameras, scanners, and to increase their computers' RAM memory.

Children increased their level of communication and demonstrated gains in language development. Children, including the 3 year olds, became fluent in the vocabulary associated with technology, development of web pages, and visiting teacher-selected web sites. Children in each of the four classrooms participated in the development of their web pages and developed a democratic procedure for making decisions that affected their group. They also developed higher level thinking skills and an understanding that everyone has good ideas to share. Children wrote and sent E-mail messages to children in other classrooms, administrators, community members, and family members, as well as to people across the United States and in other countries.

Families sent E-mail to their children or to the entire class, often suggesting projects the children could work on. Family input varied depending on individual access to and experience with computers and the Internet. Some families had home computers; others did not. Teachers provided time for parents to explore the Internet. During open houses and family nights, teachers made TEChPLACEs a part of the program. Some parents had their first opportunity to use a computer; others had their first chance to send E-mail messages.

TEChPLACEs product, the CD-ROM First Communities, is available from The Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood at Western Illinois University for the cost of shipping and handling. "TEChPLACEs: An Internet Community for Young Children, Their Teachers, and Their Families" (Hutinger & Clark, 2000) was published in the March/April 2000 issue of Teaching Exceptional Children.

The following frequently asked questions came from teachers, children, and parents involved in a TEChPLACEs' project that introduced most of them to email and the Internet. TEChPLACEs staff worked closely with teachers and children in classrooms from a Macomb first grade, a Northwest (Good Hope) kindergarten, an Industry kindergarten, and an early childhood/pre-k in Colchester. As often happens, the enthusiasm of the children affected their parents causing many of them to be interested and involved in what it is their children do. As the children discovered and corresponded with children in other classrooms via email, their curiosity and need to know produced many questions and problem solving situations. The questions are real and the answers are the solutions that are the results of the creative thinking and collaborative efforts of those involved in the project.

1. If your friend sends you a message while you are sending a message, do Internet messages bump into each other? 2. How do I email with all the children in my class?
While it may seem likely that they might crash into one another, Internet messages do not collide. It could be said that these messages, much like regular mail trucks going in opposite directions, pass each other and arrive at their destination unharmed. Each teacher will have to discover what works best with each group of children. Some teachers may be able to connect to a large television monitor making it possible for all the children in the classroom to view incoming mail and join in the composition of outgoing messages. Some teachers may have better success with their group reading and sending mail three times a week rather than every day. Depending on the amount of mail received, some may find it easier to read and reply to a portion of the messages as a large group and have smaller groups respond to the remaining correspondence. Other teachers may find it works best to generate outgoing messages and read the incoming mail as a group but then designate a smaller group, which changes frequently, to answer any mail messages. Very young children pose their own challenges. Teachers of these children may find it works best to read one or two messages as a group and rather than construct a reply at the computer, prepare the message away from the computer. The teacher then enters the children's words and sends the message at a more convenient time.

3. How do I help three and four year old children understand where email messages go?

4. How do I send email to my child at school?

The idea of regular U.S. Postal mail is hard for most children to understand, but even more difficult is email that is an abstract practice that some adults cannot grasp. One teacher found a way to ease the confusion for the children in her classroom. As a group, the preschoolers prepared and sent a message to the building principal. The teacher and the children then visited the principal and watched as she opened the email message. Lo and behold, it was the same message the children had composed in the classroom and sent earlier in the day.

First of all, you must have email capabilities and there must also be Internet access and an email account in your child's classroom. In addition, you must know the email address for the classroom. Knowing this, it is likely to depend on how the classroom teacher wants to handle the children receiving email. In many cases, it is easy enough to designate the recipient of an email message by including that information in the "subject" area of the message. For example, if the message is for your daughter Cara, you might put "To Cara from Mom" in the subject box. That helps the other children, many of whom recognize each other's names, know that that message is for Cara. In the message itself, by greeting Cara and her classmates, you will send a special message to your daughter and a message to the entire class, all of whom like to receive and send mail. By doing this, the message includes all the children, even those who may not receive their own personal greetings.


This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) PR#H180T70065. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education.

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updated August 4, 1999