Evolving technology is changing the landscape of education in classrooms, even for toddlers at Woodbridge Preschool in Rector.
“What we have to teach here has completely, just throughout the years, has completely changed,” said Woodbridge Preschool teacher Melissa Zimmerman. “This is basically kindergarten from 10 years ago. We basically have to make sure they’re ready to read because the first week of kindergarten they’re going to get a book to read on their own.”
Through a $9,000 technology grant from the Ligonier Valley Endowment, classrooms at Woodbridge Preschool are better equipped to prepare students in the 21st century with the addition of Apple iPads, two laptops for teachers, a projector and audio speakers.
“Tablets are basically the future,” Zimmerman said. “What we’re trying to do is trying to incorporate that so that they’re prepared for kindergarten because the kindergarten classrooms — that’s what they’re going to be facing in there, as well.”
Ligonier Valley Endowment board member Bill Stablein said members were happy to provide the grant, adding the endowment frequently receives requests from schools for grants to add technology to their classrooms. They found it intriguing that preschoolers were interested in computers and capable of using them.
“I think we really found it unique that kids of that age were so involved with some of the sophisticated computers and things of that nature,” he said.
Prior to receiving the grant, updated tech devices were sparse at the preschool. Zimmerman said they used donated PC computers, mouses and a printer, all of which were unreliable.
The preschool staff sought the grant, and since the beginning of the school year, they have been introducing the new devices into their classes.
The addition of the Apple iPads is not replacing instruction, but rather enhancing teachers’ lessons and providing students with a well-rounded education, Zimmerman said. Some students are more accustomed to the iPads than paperback books and PC computers.
“You give them a magazine or even just a book in the reading area and they would be trying to swipe it,” Zimmerman said.
“It was funny, kids didn’t know how to use a mouse,” said teacher Leslie King. “They don’t know how to do that anymore because they don’t have that anymore. They have their mom and dad’s phones to play games or they have iPads or tablets of some sort.”
The staff have been engaging students with apps that focus on the building blocks of education: handwriting, letters, numbers and shapes.
“I’m a firm believer that at this age the kids aren’t going to learn what they don’t want to learn,” Zimmerman said. “If they’re not interested, they’re not paying attention to you.”
“They like the little lights and sounds, and if they can learn their letters through that, that’s awesome,” she said.
Little Writer, a tracing app, is a classroom favorite.
“If somebody can’t hold a pencil or get those fine motor skills down, at least they’re practicing it,” Zimmerman said.
Just the ability to easily search for information online is improving teachers’ lessons. Recently, Zimmerman said she was talking to students about Australia and aborigines.
“There’s no preschool book that has aborigine people in it, so they were all curious,” she said. The iPads “allow us to just get online and just type in ‘aborigine’ so they can actually see what I’m talking about.”
“Preschool is a lot of just learning on the go, so it helps us to be able to supply everything for them right there,” she said.
King, who enjoys teaching students about science, appreciates having information at her fingertips. When kids ask where a monarch butterfly goes when it flies away, she said, she can find the answer more quickly.
“It’s nice for me as a teacher to be able to give them that information right then,” she said. “It’s made a world of difference.”
Students can choose to play with the iPads as part of their activity center rotation. Popular games include “PEEP and the Big Wide World Paint Splat” and “Zack and Zoey: The Hunt for the Secret Treasure.”
Students can turn to the devices for educational games rather than waiting for teachers to develop their own game, Zimmerman said.
“It’s so easy for them to just call up an app here, whereas it would take teachers a week to make that game,” Zimmerman said.
Genevieve O’Gara, 4, of Ligonier Township enjoys playing games through “Leo’s Pad,” an interactive animated series app that takes students on virtual adventures with preschool-aged Leonardo da Vinci and his friends, like Marie Curie and Galileo Galilei.
“I like the part where we fly,” Genevieve said.
For parents who might be skeptical of the added technology, Zimmerman said Woodbridge Preschool’s mission is to best prepare their students for what’s to come in kindergarten and onward.
“It’s the future,” Zimmerman said.
”Nobody is going to be pulling out the regular old mouse and things like that,” she said. “We just have to stay with the times and embrace it. Just because it’s screen time doesn’t mean it’s bad. I understand limiting it, but we have to be well-rounded in all aspects of what’s going on in the world.”
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].