Through the use of technology, children learn technology skills, while enhancing social and cognitive development.

Technology Skills

As children use the computer and other forms of technology, they have the opportunity to meet the following technology standards. Established by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), these standards are for children ages prekindergarten through second grade (2000).

  1. Use input devices (e.g., mouse, keyboard, remote control) and output devices (e.g., monitor, printer) to successfully operate computers, VCRs, audiotapes, and other technologies.
  2. Use a variety of media and technology resources for directed and independent learning activities.
  3. Communicate about technology using developmentally appropriate and accurate terminology.
  4. Use developmentally appropriate multimedia resources (e.g., interactive books, educational software, elementary multimedia encyclopedias) to support learning.
  5. Work cooperatively and collaboratively with peers, family members, and others when using technology in the classroom.
  6. Demonstrate positive social and ethical behaviors when using technology.
  7. Practice responsible use of technology systems and software.
  8. Create developmentally appropriate multimedia products with support from teachers, family members, or student partners.
  9. Use technology resources (e.g., puzzles, logical thinking programs, writing tools, digital cameras, drawing tools) for problem solving, communication, and illustration of thoughts, ideas, and stories.
  10. Gather information and communicate with others using telecommunications, with support from teachers, family members, or student partners.

Social Skills

Though initially some educators expressed concern that computers might reduce socialization, researchers suggest that instead computers may increase the amount of communication and positive interaction between children (Clements, 1994; Haugland & Wright, 1997). For example, Muller and Perlmutter (1985) found that children participated in interactions with others during 63% of computer play versus 7% of puzzle play. Computers offer a unique environment that might encourage children who typically do not interact with others to do so. “For many children the computer is a catalyst for information sharing, language development, and decision making” (Tsantis, Bewick, & Thouvenelle, 2003, p. 7). Children engage in diverse social interactions when using the computer including asking for help; directing others’ actions; providing information, assistance, and instruction; managing turn taking; acknowledging each other; commenting on each other’s actions; and disagreeing (Heft & Swaminathan, 2002; Shahrimin & Butterworth, 2002). Although children seem to naturally assist each other when using the computer, one classroom developed rules to assure interaction. These included finding a friend (children were only allowed to play at the computer with a friend), helping a friend (pointing, discussing, providing information, and sharing the mouse), and taking turns (a timer helped to determine when it was the friend’s turn) (Medvin, Reed, Behr, & Spargo, 2003).

Often computer “experts” arise in classrooms and become teachers of the other children. The experts are not assigned to this role by the teacher but instead the other children bestow this title on them. Surprisingly, the computer expert often does not have a computer at home. Experts are usually not the most proficient children at academics or social skills, but they do gain communication and social skills as they help other children (Hutinger, 1999). For example, in one kindergarten program the families were invited to send emails to their children. Since the children were not yet proficient readers, they had trouble reading the messages. That was when they discovered that Michael, a child with autistic behaviors, could read. Each day he went from classmate to classmate reading each of their messages. While in the past he’d been ignored by other children, he was now sought after.

Cognitive Skills

As a tool, the computer has several advantages that can aid in children’s cognitive development.

  • Computers are motivating for young children, increasing their time in on-task behavior. For example, one study found kindergarten children were on-task 90% of the time when they were on the computer (Bergin, Ford, & Hess, 1993).
  • Computers provide consistent and frequent reinforcement (Parette, Hourcade, & Heiple, 2000).
  • Computers allow children to work independently at their own pace (Parette et al., 2000).
  • Software programs often provide extensive scaffolding of learning. Scaffolding is very important in developing cognitive skills.
  • The computer provides unique opportunities that may enhance learning. For example, computers can allow children to access the “largest information bank—with the broadest range of quality and utility—the world has ever known” (Parette et al., 2000, p. 245). With the computer, children can participate in simulations and manipulate variables that might not be possible in the real world (Scoter et al., 2001).

The best academic results are found when the use of technology is clearly related to other classroom activities and curriculum. For example, when children are using a software program that manipulates items, the teacher places the concrete items on the table next to the computer or incorporates the items into classroom activities (Haugland, 1992). Research indicates that using a computer with supporting manipulatives increases children’s skills more than using only the manipulatives or the computer alone (Clements, 1994; Haugland & Shade, 1994).

While there are many cognitive advantages to using computers, there is danger in using too much drill and skill software (Scoter et al., 2001). In one study, children’s creativity was reduced by 50% after using this type of software (Haugland, 1992).