Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Giving iPads to kindergartners

ENGAGED: There are some good ways to encourage
kindergarteners' iPad and technology use
Computers, SmartBoards, iPads, and other technologies are increasingly becoming a part of daily learning for kindergarteners at home and in school. It's more common than ever to see a kindergartener -- even a toddler -- playing with Mom or Dad's smartphone and tablet. Many schools are also equipping their kindergarten classrooms with iPads. City Springs Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore and St. Francis School District 15 in Minnesota are two I read about recently.

These schools are starting to see significant benefits from using iPads in kindergarten education. City Springs says iPads make learning fun and more engaging. St. Francis School District 15 reports that iPads are stimulating kindergarteners' mental growth, building and reinforcing skills, and supporting students' varied learning styles. GlobalPost reported several other benefits in an article too, sharing insights from Post University's Jill Buban, Academic Program Manager for our Teaching & Learning and Online Teaching programs.

Yet, as with all new educational tools and approaches, parents and teachers should carefully evaluate what apps and programs are available, determine their merits, and monitor and control their kindergarteners' usage. Here are some pointers from Jill and Dr. Ruby Parker, Academic Program Manager for our TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages) and ELI (English Language Institute) programs. Both are also parents themselves and have introduced iPads to their children as kindergarteners. (Ruby's daughter is now in first grade, while Jill's is still in kindergarten.)

Education apps and programs to try

iDiary. One app that Jill's kindergarten daughter enjoys is iDiary, a journaling platform for writing and drawing on the iPad that her daughter's computer teacher recommended. Children can create personal journal entries, add photos, and draw pictures. It's a great way to encourage kindergarteners to log what they do, tell stories, and express their feelings.

ScootPad. This is an online, curriculum-based program for elementary students. Teachers can assign at-home math and reading practices personalized to each student's learning needs. Parents can review, support, and monitor progress. Another cool feature is the ScootPad Store, which has age-appropriate items from Amazon that children can add to their wish list. Teachers can also create and share items, such as reading lists. Parents can log in to purchase an item as a reward for a job well done, or to supplement their child's learning.

JumpStart. This is another curriculum-based learning software for pre-K to 6th graders. There is a 3D website where children can play learning games in a theme park-like environment, buddy up with their friends, and collaborate with one other on activities. Parents and teachers can track children's learning activities through the Parent Page. JumpStart also has an app for Apple and Android products, so children can play their learning games on tablets and smartphones.

Monitoring children's technology use

At this time, there is little research on the effects that iPads and early technology integration has on children, such as changes in mood and impaired vision. However, we are seeing how early technology integration can help toddlers learn and practice primary skills through fun, interactive games. Nevertheless, parents and teachers should work together to monitor children's technology use and determine the most appropriate usage practices.

For instance, pre-K and kindergarten children should be using technology with an adult or older sibling so the guardian can monitor their learning and mood while using the device. If a child is playing an educational game, but does not comprehend the purpose because the skill level is too advanced, it is not a productive use of technology. Also, some children might become irritable after using a technology too long. So teachers and parents should understand and enforce appropriate time limits.

Dr. Parker and her husband thought about limiting their daughter's use of technology and gaming, but decided that it would severely hinder her ability to integrate into today's learning environment and society. Instead, they have judiciously regulated her access to technology, programs, and apps.

If a program is purely entertainment oriented, Dr. Parker lets her daughter use it on Friday afternoons until Sunday afternoons only (including TV/Netflix/Wii). During school days, however, her daughter may only choose programs with more practical, learning-based games.

Beware of cyber bullying

Bullying can happen in the digital world as much as it can happen in the real world. Parents and teachers can help prevent kindergartners from being cyber bullied by not exposing them to social media and email -- environments where cyber bullying often occurs.

However, as children's technology skills increase, it is likely that they will be exposed to some form of cyber bullying or hear this word in school, on TV, or from interactions with older children. So parents and teachers should help children understand what cyber bullying is, and that it is intolerable.

For instance, teachers can integrate cyber bullying throughout character education units by discussing how disrespectfulness, unkindness, or impoliteness can happen on the computer. Additionally, every November, many schools around the country participate in Anti-Bullying Week, sponsored by Beat Bullying. Schools and parents can work together to discuss cyber bullying with children, why it is not allowed, how to prevent it, how children can recognize it, what to do if they think they've been bullied, and other topics.

Schools can also implement programs to teach children about positive behavior. For instance, Dr. Parker's local school uses PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), which discuss anger control, bullying, conflict resolutions, and effective communication. Through the program, a social worker comes into the class once a week and sends home a flyer informing parents what was taught in class and providing activities that parents can do to practice the same positive behavior at home.

We hope these pointers help you encourage positive, productive use of iPads and other technologies with your kindergartener. Feel free to add more ideas in the comments.