How Teachers Are Using Digital Media with Kindergarteners

Paper, paint, crayons, blocks, yarn, scissors, chalk, buttons, trucks, books, dolls, masks, capes, and puzzles are among the many items you’d find walking into a high-quality early childhood classroom.  These materials provide children with the opportunity to explore and develop their creativity, socials skills, math concepts, a sense of inquiry, and much more.

Increasingly, you’d also find digital cameras, touch-screen mobile devices, projectors, and document cameras.  When integrated with the traditional materials, these new tools can open doors to other meaningful and authentic experiences for children.

But as more programs and classrooms include technology, teachers begin to wonder what this all means. “How can an iPad help children explore art, or how can a document camera help children develop a sense of inquiry?”

As Director of Education Technology at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago, I help teachers explore the possible answers to these questions.  In my conversations with teachers, the first question I ask is, “what is your goal?” or “What is your objective?”  The answer to that question will determine whether the use of technology is necessary or not.  Beyond that, we decide how the technology should be used to support the goal or objective.

At Catherine Cook, Lauren Goldberg and Barb Fisher were helping their four-year-old students explore feelings. They wanted to provide an opportunity not only to develop vocabulary about emotions, but also to try out the expressions related to these feelings.

Both teachers understand the importance of providing young children with opportunities to explore concepts in multiple ways.  They therefore invited the children to make expressions into an iPad’s camera so they could see their face on the screen. The children then used the pictures they took of themselves as a resource for drawing the expressions using various art mediums.  The students shared their photographs and illustrations with the class, which helped them to understand that people can show feelings with varying expressions.

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In early childhood, children develop their identity as writers and illustrators. Teachers help by creating opportunities to make connections to the authors they know. When children are able to make these deep connections, they are able to identify parallels in their own abilities.  This metacognitive experience helps the children construct positive identities as authors and illustrators.

One of the authors the kindergarten teachers have chosen is Todd Parr because he is both the author and the illustrator for his books, similar to the kindergartners. To fully process information, children need to experience it is as many ways possible, activating as many of their senses as possible. Therefore, the teachers let the children try out Todd’s style of illustration through art. They helped the children get to know Todd as a person by watching videos he has posted on YouTube. They are able to use author-created media to learn about his creative studio, get to know his pets, and see him answer other children’s letters.

A significant part of the “author study” includes a video-conference conversation with Todd.  The entire kindergarten gathers together to ask Todd questions and hear him read some of their favorite books.  In conjunction with their writing curriculum, Handwriting Without Tears, the teachers recognize that cumulatively, these experiences help foster an authentic and positive motivation to encourage reading and writing.

My book, Teaching in the Digital Age: Smart Tools for Age 3 to Grade 3, provides several additional examples, in both narrative and video, that illustrate how teachers have used technology to provide meaningful experiences for children to explore skills and concepts.

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