Selecting Software for Young ChildrenThe machines available for children's use during before and after school care often have software programs already selected by the hosting organization. Care staff may have limited input. If you are able to work with the hosting organization, keep in mind that it is essential to select software that is developmentally appropriate, that is, consistent with how children develop and learn.
For young children to use computers successfully, researchers agree that software for young children should:
These characteristics fit the way that young children learn, and their need to interact with their environment. Adult participation and guidance are also important. Monitor the amount of children spend at the computer, and talk with them about their activities.
Involve children in selecting software that matches their interests. Try not to overwhelm young children with too many choices.
Software to Support Educational GoalsIf you are involved in selecting software, remember to plan purchases with a purpose in mind. Software should support learning; but it does not provide the learning. Software can influence behaviors such as cooperation and motivation, as well as how children interact with each other. Think about the experience you want children to have, and select software carefully to encourage those types of experiences.
Before and after school time is not usually planned around a specific curriculum, but is there to support a child's learning. Generally, this support comes in the form of child-directed, child-centered activities. While many of these activities are free time, such as arts, games, or sports, much learning takes place during these interactions. Time spent with computers and other technology can also be fun.
Many software programs such as children's drawing and writing programs or visual reference materials can be active and creative. Such programs, while providing plenty of diversion from academic challenges, are well-suited to meeting the young child's educational needs. If you decide to include computer games and "edutainment"software that claims to educate while entertainingin your program, be aware that they do not add to the educational experience of a child.
Open-ended and Programmed Learning SoftwareOpen-ended means that the software allows children to discover rather than being told. This type of software gives children the opportunity to explore, make choices, and then find out the impact of their decisions. Children learn by experiencing, and so need to be interactive with the computer. Appropriate software should help children reflect on what they already know.
Open-ended software encourages wondering and hypothesizing, problem solving, collaboration, motivation, and a more positive attitude toward learning. It is also associated with gains in measures of intelligence and nonverbal skills.
Programmed learning or drill-and-practice software resembles electronic worksheets or flashcards. Non-developmental software encourages more competitive behavior, and can discourage creativity and exchange of ideas. Such programs should be used for limited amounts of time, not as the major focus of computer use.
Software Evaluation and Review Resources
It is best to preview software when that is possible, to see whether it is appropriate and fits with your program. Good sources of suggestions for quality software, software that fits with the way children learn and grow, include other teachers and knowledgeable colleagues, conference sessions relating to using computers in the curriculum at your level, and organizations which evaluate software for appropriateness. The organizations listed below provide helpful criteria and/or reviews for evaluating and choosing software for children.
Educational Technology Consortium
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