Computer Skills and Kindergarten Readiness

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There’s lots of information about the benefits and risks of screen time (TV, computers, video games, etc.), lots of opinions on whether young children should or should not be exposed, and advice on making screen time work for your family. Some parents might choose to avoid screen time through their child’s preschool years, and some may not have access to technology at home.*

But, I think it’s important for parents and early childhood educators to know that basic computer skills and tablet skills are becoming a part of kindergarten readiness.

The picture above is from my son’s kindergarten classroom in the Lake Washington School District (eastside suburbs of Seattle). Every morning, during reading stations, one station is using computer-based reading programs, such as HeadSprout. They also use DreamBox for math skills. Computer-based programs are an engaging way to drill kids in some basic math and literacy skills. But only if the child knows how to use a computer.

Today I watched several kids using the software with no problem, easily navigating use of the touchpad mouse, and the touchscreen, and understanding concepts like minimizing and maximizing windows, using their fingers to magnify an image on the screen, and so on. And I watched one child who lacked any basic understanding of how any of that worked. He poked randomly at the screen, getting random results – sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. No real learning was happening during the almost 20 minutes he spent trying to figure out how the computer works. The learning value lost in that 20 minutes only puts him farther behind his classmates.

So, I’m now adding to my list of skills for kindergarten readiness. I would recommend that all kids entering public kindergarten (at least in areas that have computers in the kindergarten classroom) have these basic skills:

  • know how to use both a mouse and a touchpad mouse – they know how to move the arrow around, understand the ideas of both clicking, and double-clicking
  • know how to use a touch screen – again, both how to move the arrow around and how to click; bonus points for understanding gestures like pinch to make an image smaller, swipe to advance to another screen, drag to move an item. (Look here and here for two guides to all the gestures that are typically used on touchscreens.)
  • have played with educational software / apps where they are given verbal instructions that they should follow

So, if you have access to this technology at home, consider adding in some computer skill learning for your child at least 3 – 6 months before they start kindergarten. If you want recommendations and reviews for kids’ games and apps, check out Common Sense Media.

If you don’t have access to this technology at home (In 2012, 72% had access to the internet at home. In 2016, 72% of Americans own a smartphone, which has likely increased the number of households with access to the internet), check whether it’s available at your local library or elsewhere in your community. Here in King County, all the libraries have public computers in their children’s areas that are loaded with lots of educational software, and will allow them to learn mouse skills and headphone use. (They do not have touch screens to my knowledge.)

I don’t think children need a lot of computer time – just enough to gain some basic skills and knowledge. The majority of a preschooler’s time should be spent engaged hands-on with their world, with time spent playing with open-ended toys, outdoor time, and free play time with peers.

Essential skills for the preschool years

drawThere are several important kindergarten-readiness skills for children to work on during the preschool years (age 3 and 4) which lay the foundation for success in the early years of school. If you are choosing a preschool for your child, you will want to ensure that they are working on all these areas. If you are choosing not to do formal preschool, keep these skills in mind as you plan your activities and move through your days with your child, so that they will accomplish them by age 5.

  • Independence: Children learn to toilet, dress themselves, feed themselves, and clean up their toys. It often feels easier and more efficient for parents (or preschool teachers) to do these things for a child, but children only learn by doing things for themselves. (With gentle correction of their mistakes when needed.)
  • Patience and Self-Regulation: Children learn to wait, take turns, share, stand in line, not interrupt, work to solve a problem on their own without always asking for help, and so on. Children in a group preschool setting simply have to do this. At home, parents may want to remind themselves to not always jump to meet a child’s needs immediately, but instead work on delayed gratification for the child. (Ask them to wait a few minutes for something. Require that they calm down and ask for something politely before giving it to them.
  • Emotional stability: Children learn to control their temper, calm themselves down when upset, and move forward when they’re sad.
  • Social Skills – Making Friends and Conflict Resolution: These are best practiced in unstructured playtime with other kids that’s not guided by adults, such as play-dates and playground time. Having consistent playmates over a long period of time helps to build these skills at a deeper level, so look for opportunities such as preschool, neighbor kids, church members, cousins, etc.
  • Group Participation: Children learn to sit quietly for 10 – 15 minutes at a time, learn to pay attention to someone else speaking or reading a story, and learn to join in group activities like songs. Most preschools offer one or two “circle” times per class to work on this; parents can also look for story times at their library.
  • Listens to and relates to non-family-member adult: To succeed in school, a child needs to be able to separate from his or her parent, to listen to and obey the instructions of another adult, and get support from another adult.
    • Can answer simple questions about events or his/her environment
    • Can follow 2 step directions. (Do this, then that.)
  • Academic Foundations. The following is a sample list of basic skills for children to gain, all of which can be taught gradually in a relaxed, playful manner.
    • Can say the letters of the alphabet, recognize them in writing, maybe write a few.
    • Can say numbers 1 – 20 in order, can recognize written numbers, count 10 objects.
    • Can draw a picture to express what he is thinking about / talking about.
    • Knows basic ideas like colors, shapes, days of the week, seasons, and opposites.
    • Can manage basic school supplies: crayons, pencil, scissors, glue, tape, blocks.
    • Has basic computer / technology skills: can use a mouse and a touchscreen.

Note: all those categories are equally important… in many ways patience and self-regulation is much more important than the academic skills… If a kindergarten child knows how to sit still and listen, learning the alphabet is easy. If they can’t sit still, then learning much else will be hard!

Should your preschooler learn to read?

Parents can offer an environment that encourages literacy and basic math knowledge by simple things like: reading lots of books together, counting stairs, pointing out words on signs, singing songs and keeping the beat. If your child is passionate about letters and numbers very early, it’s fine to encourage that through more reading, math play, interaction, etc. Some children naturally learn to read or do math quite young.

However, it’s not essential that they do so! Although it is possible to use flashcards, worksheets and apps to teach children to read and/or do math at a very young age, there’s no need to do so. Although those children would enter kindergarten ahead of the other kids, the benefits all even out by midway through elementary school. And studies have found that the kids who were drilled early tended to have more anxiety about academics later on than those who were gently encouraged. (Learn more: http://trevorcairney.blogspot.com/2009/02/your-baby-can-read-part-2.html and http://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/earlier-faster-better-precocious-kids/_
photo credit: clappstar via photopin cc