The Internet and the Early Childhood Classroom
Article by Lisa K. Schanen
In the past, some educators and researchers have voiced concerns about the use of the Internet and computers in general with young children. However, recent research indicates that when integrated properly into early childhood classroom environment, the Internet can be an effective teaching tool, empowering children to take a more active role in their learning.
Integration into the Early Childhood Curriculum
To have the greatest developmental impact on young children, it is recommended that the Internet not be used simply for "drill-and-practice" activities. Teachers should focus instead on enhancing the existing curriculum with online activities that encourage exploration, imagination, collaboration, and problem-solving.
The Internet provides an ideal opportunity to focus on key areas of the preschool and kindergarten curriculum such as emerging literacy and math skills. In conjunction with traditional exercises with three-dimensional manipulatives, online mathematics activities can provide practice with patterning, classification, sequencing, and numerical relationships, as well as the concepts of time and dates. Web sites can also be a resource for extending language and early literacy development, with story creation, letter recognition, and word/picture connection activities. Open-ended activities such as writing and drawing tools also offer opportunities for children to develop creativity skills.
Online lessons should be balanced with real world experiences that focus on the same instructional concept or theme. For example, when studying birds, students might play a Web site game that features birds, make bird-beak masks, and read books about birds. Or, when working with online music applications, students can also play with real, physical instruments.
Evaluating Web Sites for Classroom Use
Choosing appropriate Internet content in the classroom depends, of course, on the educational goals for its use and the students who will be using it. However, there are some general criteria one can use to evaluate whether or not a site or online activity is developmentally appropriate for young children.
Curriculum Match: The site should support the instructional concept, themes and philosophy of the educational curriculum, program, and/or the teacher.
Age Appropriateness: The concepts and learning objectives presented in the site should reflect realistic expectations for the age of the intended users. Web sites for pre-readers should offer picture menus, meaningful icons, and proper instructional support. Also, young children generally prefer sites that are colorful, animated, have sound effects, and are quick to respond.
Instructions: Instructions should be simple and precise. For preschoolers, they should be auditory.
Child Control and Independence: Teachers may need to assist students in finding Web sites, and their guidance and suggestions can certainly enrich children's learning experiences. However, Web sites should enable children to explore, navigate, and set the pace for their online experience.
Expanding Interest and Complexity: The Web site should hold children's interest for an extended period, encourage problem solving, and meet the needs of children with a range of abilities and skills.
Content Concerns: Content on the site should be thorough and current, as well as free of stereotyping, demeaning or explicit language, or violence. A site should also promote positive social values and reflect the global society in which we live.
Real World Models: Web sites should be relevant to young children's lives, with realistic representations of objects in meaningful situations or settings.
Technical Quality and Features: It is critical that Web sites operate consistently, or children may become frustrated. Any software required for online activities should be easy for teachers to download and install.
In addition to selecting developmentally appropriate sites for students, teachers must also address the general issue of safety when using the Internet. Below are some common strategies that schools employ to guard students' safety while still allowing them to take full advantage of online learning opportunities.
Class or Lab Management Techniques
- The best way to assure that students' travels into cyberspace are healthy and productive is to closely monitor what children are doing on the computer. Situate computers in the classroom or lab so that all screens are plainly visible.
- Bookmark favorite sites for easy access.
- Though young children take pride in knowing personal information like their home addresses and telephone numbers, instruct students that they should never give out identifying information over the Internet without permission from a parent or caregiver.
Internet FiltersSome schools may opt to install Internet filtering software that provides protection from inappropriate material by restricting the Web sites anyone using the school's computers can visit. One should keep in mind, however, that filtering software isn't perfect, and objectionable material can still slip through. Also, Web sites that have been evaluated and selected by teachers can be blocked because they contain a single word that has multiple meanings within context.
Acceptable Use PoliciesMany schools ask parents to sign a permission slip when they make Internet access available to students. In addition, many schools also institute Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) to describe clearly to parents, teachers, and students how technology will be used to enhance the learning process in schools. The AUP outlines the following: the school's goal in connecting the Internet, who will use the Internet and how they will do so, what use of the Internet will be regarded as inappropriate, and the consequences of inappropriate use.
Teacher Mediation and Training
A great deal of the learning in using a computer at an early age comes from the interaction between the child and an adult or the child and their peers, not just from direct interaction with the computer. Teachers can support social development by encouraging conversations centered around students' Internet use.
- Seat several students at a computer and plan activities that require group cooperation.
- Ask open-ended questions, give comments, and offer suggestions and about what you see students doing.
- Display students work in the classroom. Printing activities can be especially useful in this area.
To effectively use the Internet as a tool for learning, teachers need training and time for self-directed exploration and research. One way teachers can familiarize themselves with the Internet and online teaching methods is through online tutorials and distance learning opportunities that are available on the Internet.
As with any technology, use of the Internet in the early childhood classroom is most effective when matched with appropriate teaching methods. The key to using the Internet with young children is to make sure their experiences are interactive and integrated into their other learning experiences.
- ProQuest K-12: Digital Teaching and Learning
- Children and Computers: K.I.D.S. & Computers, Inc.
- Early Connections: Technology in Early Childhood Education
Northwest Educational Technology Consortium
- Teaching with Technology: Scholastic Inc.
- Technology & Young Children Interest Forum
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
About the Author
Lisa K. Schanen is a producer for Scholastic Entertainment Inc. (SEI) Online, where she is responsible for developing online content for several SEI properties, including the PBS Kids Clifford The Big Red Dog Web site, and several children's sites on Scholastic.com. Prior to joining Scholastic, Schanen was a producer with Sesame Workshop's Interactive Media Group, where she developed content for the PBS Kids Web sites of Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat, Dragon Tales, Parent Tales, and Sesame Street. In addition, Lisa worked on many areas of Sesame Workshop's Web site, as well as CD-ROM, console, and wireless content. Schanen holds a B.A. in Fine Arts from Grinnell College and an M.A. in Educational Communication & Technology from New York University.
Published: March 2003