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Collection: Early Childhood

purple arrowChapter 9: Computers and Software


REFERENCE: Steelman, J. (no date). Computers and Software. In P. Pierce, (ed.) Baby Power: A Guide For Families For Using Assistive Technology With Their Infants and Toddlers. Chapel Hill, NC: The Center for Literacy and Disabilities Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It is reprinted here with permission of the editor.

Description of chapter:

The author discusses the powerful role computers and computer software play with children with developmental disabilities. Learning situations involving physical participation often leave students with disabilities behind. Activities involving a computer, however, can be adapted to all ages and all physical abilities. Provided in the chapter is a comprehensive list of books, computer software resources, and independent software reviews.

Nuts & Bolts
Great Strategies to Try
Sample Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) Goals
Next Steps (Transition Issues)
Primary Resources (Facilities and Materials, Software)

CHAPTER AUTHOR(S): Baby Power is a collaborative project of The Center for Literacy and Disabilities Studies (CLDS), CB# 8135, 730 Airport Road, Suite 200, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-8135 and The Clinical Center for the Study of Development and Learning (CDL), CB# 7255, BSRC, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-7255.

Jane Steelman is an Instructional Technology Specialist.

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It's never too young

Young children learn by example. They observe adults or older brothers and sisters accomplishing tasks and they imitate that behavior. When young children see parents and others reading they imitate reading. When they see parents writing, they imitate writing. When they see parents using a computer they want to climb up onto their lap and imitate pressing the keys just as their parents do. They do not realize the reasons for doing these activities but they know that the activities must be important because people who are important to them are doing them.

Young children should be provided with a wide range of activities and experiences in an environment in which they can explore. Computer activities should be included among these experiences. Our infants and toddlers will grow up in a technologically rich world full of information. They should feel comfortable using technology such as computers just as they do watching television or talking on telephones. A computer can be a natural part of our children's lives like paper and crayons or sand and water are. When young children are given the opportunity to explore and play at the computer, they will come to see it and use it as just another useful tool available to them to accomplish tasks. Computers can be used with infants and toddlers as another opportunity for play and active exploration.
The computer as equalizer

Infants and toddlers learn from their environment through experiences. They need to be provided with a variety of appropriate materials and activities. Children with various developmental disabilities may not be able to participate independently in activities such as block building, puzzles or creative expression except through the use of computer technology. Through the use of assistive technology like computers, children can overcome physical barriers to experiences that help them learn. Using computer can be simplified and adapted to match any child's age and physical abilities.

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Nuts & Bolts

  1. Repetition is important to the development of infants/toddlers. A well done computer program patiently provides consistent repetition for young children.

  2. Socialization and feeling close to a parent or caregiver is very important to infants and toddlers. Doing a computer activity while sitting on a parents' lap is vital to that child's sense of well being. The use of a computer should not be an isolating activity but rather an opportunity to interact with the infant/toddler
  3. Help infants and toddlers to touch the window to activate computers. Most young children naturally want to touch window of the computer because the objects look real to them. You can use touching the window as the child's indication of what s/he would like to see and do. If you use a touch screen (Edmark) on a Macintosh computer this will activate items on the screen the same as clicking the mouse. This can also be done without a touch screen since the child can point while the adult controls the mouse to activate what the child wants to see.
  4. Very young children can be helped to learn to push an adapted switch to cause something to happen on the screen by placing a picture on the switch which corresponds to the action on the screen. For example, the child may have a switch with a picture of his mother on it and every time he presses the switch he hears the voice of his mother recorded into the computer with her picture appearing on the screen.

  5. Don't expect your child to stay interested in any computer program for more than 5 or 10 minutes. If he does, that's fine, but all children are different in the amount of time they may want to interact with the computer. Very young children have short attention spans with any activity. Even if your child is a captive audience (a child who cannot move away from the computer) please keep his attention span in mind.

  6. Don't expect children younger than 3 years to load software or select the program to use. It's not necessary and you will be working very closely with him or her to use the software you think is developmentally appropriate. As children show an interest and wish to choose between two or three pieces of their favorite software, you may use a program such as KidDesk (Edmark) to give that opportunity. KidDesk is a user-friendly kid-like program in which you can control the number of choices the child has.

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Great Strategies to Try

Help the child control the software program. Sit at the computer or put it down on the floor where the child can see you and the screen. Start using a computer program like the ones suggested at the end of this chapter that can be simple enough for the developmental level of the infant or toddler. When s/he shows an interest in any manner, put him/her on your lap and help the child to start to interact with the software. That interaction may occur through the child touching the screen, hitting an adaptive switch, or giggling. Whatever the child does can be used as a signal that they would like for the actions they see on the computer screen to happen again. Then you can control the program and help them learn to use it.

Use software that has speech and sounds. Use software with speech output to gain the attention of the young child and to help them to lean that their actions have an effect on the world. Whenever children chooses something on the screen and hears a sound or some speech feedback, they gain an awareness of cause and effect, the understanding that their actions cause reactions.

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Sample Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) Goals

  1. Joey will say his name by touching his picture on the Unicorn Board attached to the center computer during morning circle.
  2. Crystal will point to body parts when labeled while playing with Face Maker Golder edition and a touch window while using a computer.
  3. Nikki will explore colors, numbers, and letters at the computer while using an expanded key board and software programs including, but not limited to, Kid Pix and Kid Works 2.

Next Steps (Transition Issues)

Continue to provide socialization while the child uses the computer. Work with him/her rather than allowing him to always use the computer on his own. This does not mean that the child does not have the opportunity to explore, but that the adult is there with the child, watching and interacting in a positive manner. Help the child whenever they seem to need help or ask for it. The software needs will change as the child develops more communication skills and can control more keys or more options on the computer.

As children approach 3 years of age they become much more interested in operating the computer independently. You will notice that most software offered for preschool aged children is rated for age 3 and above. Adult supervision and monitoring should continue even though the child may want to take a more active role in choice making on the computer. Be there as support for the child.

Children like to work at the computer in pairs and teach each other how to do things at the computer. Computer time can be used to develop communication and turn-taking skills. The time can also be spent productively in an integrated preschool setting to allow children with and without disabilities to use the same software. This sharing atmosphere fosters a sense of cooperation and equality among children.

Children tend to enjoy the control they have over the computer. For children with disabilities this may play a vital role in self-esteem since they sometimes cannot feel in control in many other areas of their lives. The computer may be one of the few avenues for independent access to learning as the child gets older. As with any needed life skill, it is never too young to start learning. Giving young children access and opportunity to explore through the use of a computer may serve them well throughout their lifetime.

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Primary Resources (Facilities and Materials, Software)

It would be wonderful if there were a computer in each home so that children could explore within a familiar and safe environment. When selecting a computer which will meet your child's needs you must first consider the software available. The computer is only as good as the software you choose. Some of the better programs are produced for different machines, while others are produced for one specific machine.

It is very important to select developmentally appropriate software. So, what does that mean? Developmentally appropriate software is:

  1. open-ended and exploratory. There are no right or wrong answers. Children can play with the software and feel successful and rewarded.
  2. easy for young children to use. It doesn't require reading and it uses few keys to operate.
  3. focused on a broad range of skills and concepts. It is not software that works on number or letter recognition, but encourages children to play, explore, draw, have fun.
  4. stimulating and interesting. The software uses appealing pictures, movement, and sounds. Results occur quickly when the child touches a key, a switch, or the screen. There are not long delays between changing activities in the program.
  5. age-appropriate. The software provides real-life experiences understandable to the child.
  6. playful and fun. It encourages imagination and play.
  7. encouraging. Children should experience success (Salpeter, p. 43)

Ke:nx (Don Johnston, Inc.) is a software and hardware solution for adapting the Macintosh computer to the specific physical and cognitive needs of computer users. Through the use of Ke:nx, alternatives to regular computer keyboards such as switches, Unicorn boards, or Key Largo may be used. Speech and other sounds can also be added to the software to make it more interesting for young children and to help children with visual impairments.

The following is a list of software suggestions for very young children which may help them explore and play using a computer. All of the programs may be modified to meet a child's visual, physical, and learning needs through the use of Ke:nx setups on the Macintosh computer (Don Johnston Company, Inc.).

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Software and Computer Accessory Resources:

500 Redwood Blvd.
Novato, CA 94948-6121
(800) 521-6263
The Playroom (Macintosh, Apple II, MS-DOS)
Kid Pix (Macintosh, MS-DOS)
Just Grandma and Me (Macintosh, MS-DOS)
The Treehouse (Macintosh, MS-DOS)
The Manhole (Macintosh, MS-DOS)

Creative Communicating
P.O. Box 3358
Park City, UT 84060
(801) 645-7737 Phone & fax
PowerPad software for IIe, IIGS, IIe emulation on Macintosh
StoryTime Powerpad Series (10 stories)
StoryTime Just for Fun (5 additional stories)
Magic Hats
Hide & Seek with Fluffy
Five Little Frogs, Five Little Fish
Mystery Box Surprise
Mystery Holiday Box Surprise
Bus to School
StoryTime Tales (book)

Davidson and Associates, Inc.
P.O. Box 2961
Torrance, CA 90509
(800) 556-6141 Customer Support
(800) 545-7677 Sales
KidWorks 2 drawing (Macintosh, MS-DOS)

Discis Knowledge Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 66
Buffalo, NY 14223-0066
(416) 250-6537 phone
(416) 250-6540 fax
Applelink: DISCIS
Discis Books (Macintosh only)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny
Thomas' Snowsuit
Moving Gives Me a Stomach Ache
The Paper Bag Princess
Mud Puddle

Don Johnston Company, Inc.
1000 N. Rand Rd., Bldg 115
Wauconda, IL 60084
(800) 999-4660 or (708) 526-2682
StoryTime (Macintosh only)
CircleTime (Macintosh only)

Dunamis, Inc.
3620 Hwy. 317
Suwanee, GA 30174
(800) 828-2443
Power Pads and related software

P.O. Box 3218
Redmond, WA 98073-3218
(800) 426-0856
TDD (206) 861-7679
Bailey's Bookhouse (Macintosh only)
KidDesk (Macintosh only)

KidTech (Macintosh only)
21274 Oak Knoll
Tehachapi, CA 93561
(805) 822-1663

Make it Go (B&W) $20
My Action Book (B&W) $30
Old MacDonald's Farm (color) $50
Old MacDonald's Farm (B&W) $30
Five Little Ducks (color or B&W) $50 or $30

Lawrence Productions
1800 S. 35th St.
Galesburg, MI 49053
(800) 42104157
McGee (Macintosh, Apple IIGS, MS-DOS, Amiga)
McGee at the Fun Fair (Macintosh, Apple IIGS, MS-DOS)
Katie's Farm (Macintosh, Apple IIGS, MS-DOS)

Mayer Johnson Company
P.O. Box 1579
Solana Beach, CA 92075-1579
(619) 481-2489 phone
(619) 259-5726 fax
Speaking Dynamically (Macintosh only)
I Can Play, Too!
Boardmaker (International)

Merit Software
13635 Gamma Road
Dallas, TX 75244
Electric Crayon Deluxe Series (Macintosh, Apple II, MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64)

PLAYWARE, Play and Learning Software for Youth
P.O. Box 44076
Kennesaw, GA 30144
Single switch and Power Pad input software

R.J. Cooper & Associates
24843 Del Prado Suite 283
Dana Point, CA 92629
Single switch programs good for young children

Tom Snyder Productions
90 Sherman St.
Cambridge, MA 02140
(800) 342-0236
Tom Snyder lapware (Macintosh, Apple II, MS-DOS)
Jack and the Beanstalk
Flodd, the Bad Guy
Tough Krudd

UCLA Microcomputer Team
1000 Veteran Avenue, Room 23-10
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(213) 825-4821
Single switch, Power Pad, and TouchWindow software

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Books on Computers and Other Resources:

Burkhart, L. (1987). Using computers and speech synthesis to facilitate communication with young and/or severely handicapped children. 6201 Candle Court, Eldersburg, MD, 21784

Carolina Computer Access Center
Alliance for Technology Access
(Judy Timms)
1307 Solano Ave.
Albany, CA 94706
(415) 528-0747

CAST, Inc. (Center for Applied Special Technology)
39 Cross St.
Peabody, MA 01960
(508) 531-8555
Closing the Gap
P.O. Box 68
Henderson, MN 56044
(612) 248-3294

Developmental Evaluations of Software for Young Children by Susan W. Haugland and Daniel D. Shade
Delmar Publishers, Inc.
2 Computer Dr. West
Box 15-015
Albany, NY 12212

Educational Resources
1550 Executive Drive
Elgin, Illinois 60123
(800) 624-2926
(708) 888-8499 fax
(708) 888-8689 fax

High/Scope Survey of Early Childhood Software, by Warren Buckleitner
High/Scope Educational Research Foundation
600 North River St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198

1955 Cliff Valley Way
Atlanta, Georgia 30329
(404) 633-3430

47 Water Street
Norwalk, CT. 06854
(800) 622-6222 phone
(203) 855-1386 fax

Salpeter, J. (1992). A Parent's Handbook: Kids & Computers. SAMS: A division of Prentice Hall Computer Publishing, Carmel: Indiana. ISBN: 0-672-30144-x

TAM (Technology and Media)
Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Dr.
Weston, VA 22091-1598
(703) 620-3660

Trace Research and Development Center
S-151 Waisman Center
1500 Highland Ave.
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 262-6966

Worldwide Disability Solutions Group
Apple Computer
Mail Stop 36SE
20525 Mariani Ave.
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 974-7019
TDD (408) 974-7911

Independent software reviews:

Apple Computer Resources in Special Education Rehabilitation
DLM/Teaching Resources, Inc.
Park Allen, TX 75002
(800) 527-4747

EPIE (Educational Products Information Exchange)
P.O. Box 869
Water Mill, NY 11976
(516) 283-4922

Technology for Language Learning Special Education Public Domain Project
P.O. Box 327
E. Rockaway, NY 11518
(516) 625-4550

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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