What are some good pieces of new technology for a preschool classroom?
August 18, 2014 10:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to bring the preschool my children attend up to date on the technology side of things. Does anyone have any suggestions, mostly hardware-wise, on what to go with? Does the preschool your child attends make use of any technology? Or their Kindergarten class for that matter? What works? What doesn't? I'm willing to hear software suggestions too, but again, mostly looking for hardware ideas.

I recently pledged enough money to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter to grant my sons' preschool access to a year's subscription. Before doing so, I needed to get the permission of the preschool's director because it would eventually require a bit of a change in the way she teaches.

Right now my children's preschool has two very, very old desktop computers. Small CRT monitors. Windows XP (or maybe even ME, I've not actually seen these computers in action). They are not connected to the Internet. She has them so the children can learn how to use a computer, and of course, she has them play some really old educational games. I think Barney is even in the mix.

The director/lead teacher thought the Reading Rainbow app would be an awesome idea and was totally down with me pledging money to get her classroom access to it. But of course this means new technology is needed in her classroom. I've volunteered my services in setting up anything new and also picking out new technology.

I haven't picked out a new computer in years. We have iPads at home. We have a couple of LeapReaders at home. Every once in awhile I let me kids get on my work laptop and go nuts in Word or Paint. I have some idea what to go with, but I was hoping to get some thoughts from any educators of young folks out there, or parents who think that whatever XYZ technology is really helping out their little ones.

What do you think? Laptops? Touchscreens? Keyboard and mouse? Tablets?

I'd like to avoid Apple products because of how costly they are. The great majority of the children in this classroom come from poor(er) families. And I could see the use of technology at school leading to a request for such a technology at home. So I could see LeapPads being a good choice since they are more affordable. But let's say it stays unique to the classroom and not desired at home, would we be selling the kid's short on the limitations of LeapPad? (All of that said, I know that Reading Rainbow app does not work on a LeapPad)

Don't let me limit your answers because of what I said above. I'm just trying to give you an idea of where I'm at in my head. And for whatever it's worth, she has 30 kids in her classroom.
posted by mrzer0 to Education (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Weeeellll, I wouldn't do any of it.

I'm an educator, and most research at this point indicates that in the preschool years especially, kids brains are growing and developing. Sitting kids in front of computers/laptops/tablets will automatically stop them from interacting with others.

There may be some great games, but every time a child is in front of a screen is a time they're NOT being active learners.

If I were paying to send my kid to preschool, I'd want my kid to be educated by play, by interacting with people, not having them sit in front of a screen.

I would buy the school books, posters, art supplies, chalk.

I wouldn't buy them any technology.
posted by kinetic at 11:19 AM on August 18, 2014 [18 favorites]

I do not have kids and my imaginary kids do not have a preschool.

However, if I did have kids I would see technology in a pre-school as a negative not positive feature. Given that kids under 2 are recommended to have 0 screen time and preschool kids should have very limited screentime (with most kids likely getting the maximum daily dosage at home and most parents eager to save it for home so they can make dinner, if they're trying to limit screentime). I wouldn't want to send my kids to preschool and find out they were using computers or tablets while there.

I understand the RR app is educational, but it seems like the kind of educational material -- talking about books, learning about the topics of books, reading books, hearing what kids think of different books -- that I would want provided by the preschool itself, involving actual interaction with live human beings and development of social skills. Not via video.

So, I would use whatever budget you have to buy actual books, and you (the adults) should use whatever technology you have access to to use the RR app yourselves for ideas and book suggestions, if you like. If you must hand the screentime over to students, I would buy a cheap android tablet, lock it down for RR (and a few other limited apps, if you like) use and let parents/families sign it out for the night/weekend so it can replace TV time at home instead of replacing interactions with teachers and kids at preschool.

I'm not anti-technology and I am not in the tiniest bit sympathetic to people who claim that the internet and social media are somehow replacing "real relationships." but preschool kids are learning to interact and read social cues. They need to talk to people not watch videos.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:21 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work with special needs kids (though mostly elementary age). The big push is for tablets because they are portable, there are a lot of therapy (occupational and speech) goals that can be worked on through apps that are also great for typically developing young children. It's just more interactive and can be a great motivator.

My experience is with ipads but I agree it's probably not the best choice in your situation. A lot of the parents I work with want to buy ipads for their kids but it is a financial burden for a lot of people.

And you need good, strong cases. Really.

However, if you don't have wi-fi there, I'd advise against it. Nowadays a lot of apps non-functional without a connection (it used to be you could download apps, and use them offline but that's changed a lot).
posted by Aranquis at 11:45 AM on August 18, 2014

Our preschool uses no technology and we like it that way. I'd actually be really unhappy to have something like this introduced as it takes away from the play-time and social time the kids should be getting.

What we do have is old laptops, keyboards, mice, cell phones, regular phones that are NOT connected and come at for some play times when the kids place "office worker" (It's really cute)

Could you use this energy and experience to help some of the other parents learn technology?
Office app training? Linux installation on older laptops, etc...
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:48 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

As the parent of a recent preschooler, n'thing that I would find it really problematic if I learned the school was including a lot of screen time in its curriculum. Doubtless some others would disagree, but to me plunking a bunch of 3-4-year-olds in front of tablet apps, however instructional, would read either as laziness on the teacher's part or as some higher-up's being infatuated with flashy tech at the expense of real consideration for the educational needs of kids this age. I would not be a fan.

Using technology to empower the adults-- whether by plugging the teacher into online educational resources or improving the tech literacy of the parents-- seems like a vastly preferable direction.
posted by Bardolph at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a mom to a preschooler and I would be really, really against ANY technology in the preschool classroom. I believe that the important lessons at this age are socialization and play. I would much, much, much rather you used the money to replace old or worn out toys, bought new books for class or maybe some of the awesome but more expensive imaginative toys (magformers come to mind). Also class room improvements would be great. Refresh the play kitchen, get new art supplies replace the worn classroom story time rug.
posted by saradarlin at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wrote an educational program (https://code.google.com/p/rur-ple/; http://rur-ple.sourceforge.net/) that's been downloaded over 50,000 times and formed the basis of a book written and distributed by Samsung to elementary school children in South Korea. So, I am all for the *appropriate* use of technology in the classroom. However, NOT for preschoolers. My advice for technology at that age: wooden blocks and legos.
posted by aroberge at 12:43 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

My kid has been in 3 different preschools and none of them have any technology. As others have said, parents and teachers are likely to be against this.
My kid is about to start kindergarten and just now are they beginning to have some exposure to technology but it is very limited.
posted by k8t at 12:43 PM on August 18, 2014

Ok, I just read more slowly and realized you're the parent and not a teacher at the preschool. Then let me add what I didn't say before for fear of offending you: I too would assume that a preschool using tablets or computers in the classroom indicated that the teachers at that school were just lazy. And I'm surprised that the preschool already has computers. There is no reason preschool students need to "learn how to use a computer". Bill Gates, Sergei and Larry, and Steve Jobs all waited until after preschool to learn how to use a computer and they seem to have picked it up later just fine.

Further, even if they did need to learn how to use computers, educational games don't teach kids to use computers. They teach them to point and click. Pointing and clicking is not that hard; they can learn later. Pointing and clicking successfully does not indicate that one understands anything about computers (how many of us spend our time doing tech support for parents and grandparents who know how to point and click but don't really get computers?). Pointing and clicking may go away at some point.

If you want your kids to learn how to use a computer, buy them a unix machine or some arduino or raspberry pi system, or a Commodor64 with a book on BASIC when they get older. Something that requires that they actually figure something out about how computers work. Or hell, send them to provide tech support to your parents and grandparents (again, when they're older). That requires that they figure out both computers and people.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2014

Response by poster: While I appreciate the anti-technology opinion, and to a certain degree I can understand it, that does little to answer my question.

I was introduced to computers in Kindergarten. For 30 minutes a day. We actually learned BASIC programming, and I was super into it. We never had a computer at home. Ever. When I was in 1st grade my "computer teacher" wrote on my report card that I had an understanding of computers at the level of an 8th grader. I didn't get my first computer until I was 17 years old. My parents didn't get theirs until I was 20-something. I now work in computers... in education, just higher education. I actually had no intention of being an IT person, but I am now. I want my children to understand and appreciate technology. And so far they do.

The classroom my children attend is super engaged with small groups, an assortment of teachers, and so on. There is outdoor play for the majority of the day (weather permitting). There is a TON of hands-on learning. Insects, animals, books, blocks, texture tables, you name it. There's music. There's dancing. Etc.

You will never convince me that technology in the hands of small children is a bad thing. Especially under the watchful eye of good teachers (and good parents, such as myself and my wife). Especially in moderation. These children are going to grow up working on these very things daily, and you think excluding them from that is best? No one is saying here that these kids cannot be creative. But other than blacksmiths, and glassblowers, and whatever lo-tech job you can dream up, everyone everywhere uses technology. We're using it to have this discussion.

I'm not, and the school is not looking to turn these children into mindless drones. We are looking to educate. And I am looking for the best systems for doing so.

Thank you.

P.S. - As I was wrapping up this response, I received a newer "answer" that expressed a bit about "need to be able to." No, my children, and the 28 other children in this class do not "need to be able to use a computer." But there is genuinely no harm in doing so. It is a tool that adds onto learning.

P.P.S. - I'm not looking to start internet flamewar 3.0 either. Again, I am telling you straight up, you are not going to convince me that this is a bad thing. I work in education, I have friends who are educators to K thru 2. I have read the studies. And for every study on your side, is another study on my side. I am simply looking for use cases/hardware suggestions.
posted by mrzer0 at 1:49 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to try to convince you this is a bad thing, but I hope you can see that there's no good reason to introduce technology to preschool.

Anyway, the RR app works only on iPads and Kindle Fire, so if your starting premise is to use this app, then you'd probably best be served getting some iPads and heavy-duty cases. You don't really have a whole lot of choices here. Also, if there are 30 kids, the teachers better have a good sharing plan because I can see that thing being pulled out of kids hands and a whole lot of fighting going on over the new shiny.

The RR app is basically some videos giving backstory and someone reading the book. I'm all for technology but I just can't fathom why the teachers can't read to the kids. Why an app?

And based on the responses you've gotten here weighing in heavily against the use of technology in preschool, I would definitely run this by parents.

I understand your good intentions here but I think the thing of it is, and I'm speaking as a teacher/administrator as well as a parent, those preschool years are critical years for brain development and learning social skills. They're short years and you don't get them back and preschool is what...maybe 30 hours a week?

This is not an argument, it is a truth when I say:

When a child is using technology they are NOT ACTIVELY engaging with others.
posted by kinetic at 2:22 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ok, then it depends on your goal.

If your goal is that they learn to use computers

If you feel like your kids have to learn to use computers in preschool rather than waiting, research which computer systems/types are best for teaching kids about computers and get that. I already suggested a commodore 64 with BASIC (obviously since that's what you started on , you see the benefit.) which I think is a good suggestion for older, but they can't type or read yet, so you'll need some kind of visual basic replacement, which may not exist. If there is no visually-based basic equivalent, then consider some hands-on technology/computing kits. There are many on kickstarter, as I'm sure you know, but there are probably others that you can get without waiting months. Let the kids use phyrical systems to figure out how to make things happen. Hands-on/Physical/tactical is best at this age and they can learn the logic of computing. Here is one example of a physical programming system for kids 3-7 that does not require literacy. Here's another.

If your goal is that they become better readers/book-lovers
Research how kids learn to read and love books. I'm not literacy researcher, but you say you know the research. While there may not be research on ipad vs. computer etc., I"m sure there is research on basic principles behind teaching kids to become lifelong readers. Figure out what (technology or not) is the system that implements those principles best. If you're having trouble figuring that out and not getting the answers you want to fit that together here, maybe post an update saying "research shows X, Y, and Z promote literacy" so people can suggest the best ways to create those factors.

If your goal if for them to use this app because you just want them to use the app
Buy an ipad.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:43 PM on August 18, 2014

I'd pick the Kindle fire based on price point. This will work and just will need a heavy duty case. I think 3 or 4 MAX for a class of preschooolers.

The only way I see this working is allowing kids to watch a book together and you can have the three or four different books at the same time. Maybe the the kids share their favorite moment in the book to eachother. You could read things that may interest the kids more and group them.

20 to 30 minutes max probably closer to 10 to 15. It may be a way to settle before nap time.

If you can come up with a feasible plan to introduce them I think it would be okay. Will it replace normal story time twice a week? Will it be available during unstructured play time? How much time a day? Are you going to lock it down to just RR and nothing else?

I really don't think any technology is a substitute for good teachers, individualized instruction and interaction.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:02 PM on August 18, 2014

My kid's preschool has an OHP that the kids can use which is great. It's an old school mechanical one and the kids draw on films and do shows for each other. That's the most advanced thing she has.

Are you sure that the other kids do not have access outside of school? Most parents I know have at least a smartphone and their kids are very comfortable using them, if not a desktop PC at home. I would suggest polling the parents on their tech level at home and how many hours they feel are appropriate before spending money, or you may get a backlash.

If you have some extra funds and want to achieve a computer foundation, there are excellent programming board games out there and building games for logical gates etc. Those plus training or teachers guidebooks would mean all the kids get a chance to actively participate and learn. Otherwise you need a ratio of at least 1 ipad to 2 kids to have any equal access unless the school plans to have the kids take turns throughout the day which would logistically be tough.

At an ipad per kid, you would have a room full of kids doing individual play or at most shared play with 1 other kid. Very few apps are designed for multi kid use except as passive viewing. I love reading rainbow's app, but it works best with one adult reading along and commenting, in terms of literacy learning for little kids. For a larger group, the screen is just too small to share.

Maybe a digital OHP that connects to the teachers ipad so the kids can play apps together like the search and find, reading rainbow, etc? You'd have to curate carefully and thee teacher would need to plan ahead to incorporate this into class time.

This does not apply for special needs kids where an ipad can be a very helpful learning tool. If your classroom has any kids with speech etc issues, that's a different matter.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:38 PM on August 18, 2014

Apps to teach your kid to code.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:11 AM on August 19, 2014

I'd really like to see these alleged studies that show that technology use is good in a preschool classroom.
posted by k8t at 6:26 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a 3 year old (Micropanda) and an iPad. Our favorite apps are the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox series (the original, the word one, and the math one). He also learned letter shapes from Elmo's ABCs.

For non-app uses, I sometimes let him watch videos from They Might Be Giants' Here Comes Science CD, and sometimes we use the web browser to look at a picture of something we have been talking about. (We were just talking about platypuses! Let's see what a platypus looks like!) That can be cool. I actually wish we could do it more - but we can't, for reasons described below.

However, as far as the classroom goes, as a parent I'd want to know that there would be severe limitations on the kids' tablet use. I would not want them to have free run of the tablets (or computer).

Two reasons:
1) Micropanda (and plenty of others I know) has extreme difficulty regulating his desire to use the iPad. It is seriously like crack. Toys, he plays with for a while and moves on. He will play with the iPad literally forever. (Literally: We had a 13 hour car ride, I handed him the iPad, he played with it for 13 hours straight and wouldn't get out of the car to run around at the rest stops.) I'm fortunate now that he's a very rules-oriented kid and we've established some absolutely unshakable rules around iPad use. iPad is for long trips and his sister's doctors' appointments. If he "writes his words" (I give him long words to copy, to practice writing letters), he can watch two science videos and do one google image search of his choice. That's it. As long as those rules are followed, he does great. But I can always tell if his dad gives him the iPad at some other time, because he gets anxious and whiny (he thinks there might be more iPad time coming, but he's not sure and that makes him anxious). I also had a full day of tantrums the other day because I didn't take him to his sister's emergency dentist appointment - which in his mind is lost iPad time.

2) In most apps, if he doesn't already know the answer, he just flails around wildly clicking things, because they always give some kind of feedback for the wrong answer and he doesn't care about getting the right answer, he just wants a response. In contrast, he's much more likely to stop and think about something if you ask him personally or if he's looking at it on paper. For example, if I ask him 3+4 while we're riding in the car, he'll count on his fingers and tell you 7 (or maybe 6, but he tried). If Monkey Math asks him what 3+4 is, he'll just click all the multiple choice answers. It really seems to short-circuit something in his brain.

So. In Micropanda's school, I'd be down with there being one tablet per teacher, used to pull up pictures on the fly, or otherwise facilitate direct teacher child interaction. (Here's a platypus! Platypuses lay eggs - here's a platypus egg! Here's a baby platypus hatching!* Can you say mo-no-treme?). However, when we were visiting preschools, I winced at all the ones that had computers in the classroom available for free play.

This will be different when he's older. There's so much personality development going on right now and I can see it starting to change - but he's not there yet.

*I'm really seriously bummed that I couldn't find a good picture of a platypus egg hatching. Memail me one if you're up to the challenge.
posted by telepanda at 9:29 AM on August 19, 2014

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