I remember being in grade school and getting that coveted computer time. Twenty minutes to sit in front of a big, bulky, black-and-white screened machine that was noisy and slow. We would play Oregon Trail, using the keyboard to move our digitized covered wagon (or at least that’s what it was supposed to look like) across the screen. I was enthralled by this technology and loved when I earned the time to use it.
My, how times have changed! Young children are now surrounded by technology, and they know how to use it. Gaming systems, MP3 Players, CD players, computers—and how many kids do you see walking around with cell phones?! Meanwhile, I fondly remember my own cassette tape player and thought I was so cool in eighth grade with my pager.
My preschoolers are able to manage this technology with ease, even upon their first introduction to it. This was evident last week when we brought in a digital camera and laptop with a webcam for the kiddos to use (I know, what were we thinking?). The children did remarkably well—right away they picked up on how to aim the camera while looking at the screen and push the button to snap a shot of a friend. (I wouldn’t say they will be having a gallery showing anytime soon, but some people might see free expression in the heads chopped off of every picture.)
Needless to say, the laptop and webcam were a huge success! We first had a student teacher read a story via Skype while the kids ate snacks. Their attention spans were remarkable; they watched attentively and commented on the story as she read. We then allowed the kids to play with the laptop and webcam features. They loved watching themselves make funny faces on the computer screen and using the mouse to select a variety of special settings that warped their faces or put silly wigs on their heads. Their use of these technologies was nothing less than impressive. I’m always taken aback by the way such young kids can manipulate a mouse—they can’t cut with scissors, but they can eye-hand coordinate and fine/gross motor plan to make the exact move that they want with a computer.
I shouldn’t be so surprised by these children and their technology abilities. We use a SMART Board with them a few times a week, and it’s not only one of their favorite activities, but they also pick up on the tasks very quickly. The resulting behaviors we see in our students with ASD are, for lack of a better word, awesome! They are more engaged, they respond to our questions, and they genuinely seem to enjoy what they are learning.
For one of my grad school classes, I created an online presentation to show how and why we use the SMART Board in our preschool classroom. At the end are some great videos of one of our children with ASD participating in SMART Board lessons. This child has limited language and a short attention span and often gives us minimal eye contact, but you wouldn’t know that from the videos.
Please watch, enjoy, and think of how you may be able to use technology in your classroom, even with students you never thought would “get it.”