University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 1/1995
Preschoolers lead the way in the world of computers

     Hopscotch has a new look at the University of Delaware,
where preschoolers jump from square to square, spelling their
names on a giant...keyboard!
     Playing keyboard hopscotch is one way kids learn about
computers through Technology in Early Childhood Habitats (TECH),
a program of the Department of Individual and Family Studies. And
what looks like play, in the school yard or at the keyboard, is
actually essential for research into how young children learn
best with computers. TECH passes on the research findings to
current and future teachers.
     "We can no longer think of classroom computers as an
'extra'," says Bernadette Caruso Davis, Delaware '95, associate
director of the program. "Computers are such a critical part of
life today, they need to have the same priority in the education
of young children."
     This conviction is what drives Davis and her colleagues
within TECH, the oldest existing program of its kind in the
country. TECH began 12 years ago and, as Caruso explains, "we are
unique because we are so multifaceted, combining early childhood
education, teacher training, research and software evaluation."
     Each summer, TECH runs a two-week computer camp staffed by
education majors. Approximately 120 local children, ages 4 to 8,
come on campus to participate. A number of economically
disadvantaged students receive scholarships from corporate and
individual sponsors. Campers use the latest educational software
available and gain computer proficiency in a setting that's both
social and challenging.
     "We help children learn about computers in lots of different
ways," Davis says. In addition to giant keyboard hopscotch,
there's "computer twister" and the ever-popular ice cream sundae
assembly line (the assembly process teaches pre-programming
skills, by the way). "The kids have a great time at our camp, and
the staff has a chance to learn more about kids and computers,"
Davis says.
     In conjunction with the computer camp, the University hosts
a summer institute for teachers and school administrators from
around the country. TECH and the University's Division of
Continuing Education jointly administer the weeklong institute on
campus each year. "It's essential that teachers get training,"
Davis reports. "Otherwise, computers can become dusty classroom
ornaments." The teacher training has a ripple effect, because
teachers and school administrators take what they learn at the
institute back to their schools around the nation.
     For many educators, the institute is their first chance to
catch up on current educational opportunities and, perhaps, to
overcome their own technophobia. They learn basic computer
maintenance and theory and then work with the children attending
the computer camp. "Often, it's the children who draw adults out
and make them feel comfortable with the computer," Davis says.
     Davis, herself, was once a technophobe, a liberal arts
student who was drawn into the field as an undergraduate by way
of a part-time campus job. "I was afraid of computers until a 4-
year-old girl sat me down and told me she'd explain everything I
needed to know." That introduction was just the beginning for
Davis, who recently won a top award from the Society for
Technology and Teacher Education (STATE) for a paper on training
teachers in developmentally appropriate computer use.
     Teachers and parents also look to TECH for evaluation of
educational software. Daniel Shade, professor of individual and
family studies and director of the TECH program, acts as one of
three judges in the annual Child Magazine software review.
Shade's evaluation method requires the systematic application of
10 criteria to each piece of educational software. (See box at
left for TECH's top software picks).
     Top software can be played independently, focuses on process
(not product) and expands in complexity as the child's ability
increases. According to Shade, software should not merely provide
"drill and practice" exercises, replicating--at a high cost--what
can be taught in other ways. The best software, instead, puts a
child in the driver's seat by providing a tool that allows him or
her to exercise imagination and creativity.
     TECH reaches out to the parents of its young participants.
University students host "parent nights" and produce newsletters
to practice communicating with parents about the educational
opportunities computers provide. Davis says that many parents are
less comfortable with computers than their children are. Adults
often need hands-on demonstrations of educational software and
information about how computers can help their children learn.
Some parents have been turned off by inferior software marketed
for children. And, many fear that computer use will replace more
traditional, social ways of learning.
     According to Davis, computers will never replace teachers
and varied learning experiences. They do, however, have an
important role. "Computers are excellent educational tools," says
Davis, "and when teachers and parents are open to them-as open as
children are-the possibilties are exciting."
                                            -Mary B. Hopkins


Ages 4 and up
TITLE                                   PUBLISHER
Kid Pix Studio                          Broderbund
Living Books Series (various titles)    Broderbund
The Manhole                             Cyan
Thinkin' Things                         Edmark
Kid Desk (a program and file manager)   Edmark
Amazing Animation                       Claris Corp.

Ages 6 and up
TITLE                                   PUBLISHER
Imagination Express (various titles)    Edmark
Flying Colors                           Davidson
The Amazing Writing Machine             Broderbund
The Even More Incredible Machine        Sierra On-Line