I was initially disappointed when I saw that the book chosen for the book study blog party that several bloggers that I follow are participating in is titled Teaching in the Digital Age. I feel pretty strongly that digital tools do not belong in my 1/2 day preschool program. However, I was intrigued because Dr. Jean was involved. I have just read the introduction and first chapter of the book and it looks like the book will help teachers use technology both for assessment and as a teaching tool. I understand that technology does not refer only to computers and ipads but also to digital cameras, audio recorders, webcams, projectors and smart boards. However, what I worry about is the notion that young children should be using computers or ipads in class or, for that matter, any technology that that takes time away from interacting with classmates and teachers and actually "getting their hands on" toys, books, crayons and scissors.
I do think that technology can enhance teaching for older students in a full day program when it is used judiciously. When I taught Kindergarten I was in a very low income school district. I think I would have loved a smart board and it would really have helped in group instruction. I didn't even have computers in my room for most of the 5 years that I taught in Chester but the kids loved that center the one year I had 3 computers. I think that ipads or computers can be used as a meaningful center (and they have the distinct advantage that kids love the various games and apps that are available).
Why I don't think digital tools belong in a Preschool program.
My preschool starts at 9:00 with the children going right to the outdoor playground. We play outside until 9:30 every day. At 9:30 my class comes in for circle time (where we do calendar, morning message, songs, a story, games and student star stuff). While technology could be used during this time, it is certainly not needed. At 10:00 we have snack and then free play. During free play, I always bring small groups of children over for a project (where we work on following a series of directions and fine motor skills such as cutting, drawing and gluing). My assistant circulates around the room and facilitates the children's play (with blocks, dress-ups, play dough, puzzles, etc). At 11:00 we go back outside and play until 11:30. I detailed my day to illustrate why I would hate to introduce an ipad or computer at any time during our day. I would not want to take the children away from play time or direct interaction with the teachers.
I think that children who are 3-5 years old learn first and best through play. I also think that it is my job to work on gross and fine motor skills and to help young children adapt to routines and following directions (particularly as part of a group). The introduction of technology is often counter productive to the pursuit of these goals. In fact, one of the most striking contrasts I found between working in low and high income areas is a by-product of technology. While my kindergarteners in Chester did not know any letters, they were great at fine motor skills (holding a pencil, drawing and cutting). My upper income Pre-K students came to me knowing all their letters and lots of sounds but could not hold a pencil correctly or cut very well. I am sure that their lack of fine motor skills relates to all the time spent on the computer and ipad (instead of using coloring books).
By the end of this year, in both my Pre-K and Kindergarten class, almost all of the students were beginning to read. While I don't think it is important for children to read before Kindergarten, I do think that it is cool that the kids, in both grades, learned to read "the old-fashioned way." Even more important, my students are really excited to learn and love school.
Technology as a communication tool.
Although I am reluctant to use technology as a teaching tool in my pre-K classroom, I have loved using technology to communicate with parents. Our school subscribes to myclassroomconnection.com. Each week I upload a newsletter and photos to the site. The site also has a calendar, a class list and other tabs that I have added including "other things," "the school handbook" and "curriculum." Each Sunday or Monday, after I upload the newsletter and photos I push one button and send an email to notify all of my parents. On the "Other Things" tab I have posted the words to our songs, explanation of programs we use, articles that I think will be of interest to the parents and many other things. Both the parents and I loved the great communication that technology has afforded to us.