e-toys find a place in the classroom?
Lorraine McCune, Ph.D.
Writing and Mathematics ha-ve supplanted play as the primary concern
of kindergarten teachers. Gone is the relaxed playful notion that
the first year of schooling should be an informal easy entrance
into school routines, with an emphasis on skills deferred until
first grade. By the end of kindergarten children are expected
to write their names, know their letters and understand basic
number concepts. Research I presented this fall at the Los Angeles
meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young
Children (NAEYC), conducted with Dr. Elizabeth Young of the Old
Bridge Township New Jersey School District, has demonstrated that
children playing writing and alphabet games with the Alphy Pad
made greater improvements in learning to write their names than
children limited to more traditional learning experiences. This
innovative play and learning tool incorporates a patented handwriting
recognition system that identifies letters and numbers, as children
write, correcting their errors and praising their success.
Recent research by Dr. Michelle Havens of Rutgers and Kean Universities
has demonstrated that between four and five years of age, most
of the perceptual and motor skills needed for writing are available
to children. Current kindergarten practice calls for children
to write their names by the time they leave kindergarten, so finding
playful strategies suitable to the children’s age and skills is
critical. As yet there is scant research addressing the usefulness
of e-toys in the classroom, but the potential is surely there!
Toyfair, the world conference of the toy business world, held
in New York City in February saw the introduction of Thinkpad,
successor to the toy we studied, which extends the handwriting
technology to include numbers, and offers practice in spelling
and math as well as writing. This toy, one of a new set of offerings
from General Creation intended to assist learning in elementary
school, joins the roster of educational e-toys noted in the Circuits
Section of the New York Times on January 3, 2002. Until recently
e-toys from such companies as V-tech, LeapFrog, and Neurosmith
have been aimed at preschoolers and the home market. With children
spending more time in daycare and after school programs, products
blending learning and fun can find their place. Developmentalists
quoted in the Times’ article expressed skepticism regarding the
value of these toys. I believe teachers’ incorporating e-play
into the curriculum and research evaluating the outcomes may lead
to ever more effective use of technology to enhance school learning
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