Your child and technology: what your kindergartner needs to know

Some schools and parents are using technology to boost reading, math, and science skills, but it remains optional for kindergarten learning.

By GreatSchools Staff

Is a high-tech kindergarten the best?

Does your child’s classroom have enough technology? Should it have any at all? When it comes to the modern-day kindergarten class, these questions are more easily asked than answered. Given that young children's brains and bodies grow best when all of their senses are engaged – constructing a city out of blocks, navigating a climbing structure, dressing up as a superhero – we know that kindergarten classrooms need all the tools of the trade for rich sensory play.

What role should technology play? As a rule, kindergartners shouldn't be spending their days (at home or at school) planted in front of a glowing screen. But there is outstanding technology available that can support your child's academic growth. Technology in kindergarten can also start your child on the road to technological literacy: knowing to use tools to solve problems. Here’s a primer for what's available and how it can help your child's learning.

Are there any standards for technology in kindergarten classrooms?

The Common Core Standards Initiative issued in 2010 – and adopted by most states  – spells out several technical skills that a kindergartner should have, at least ideally. (Many states also follow the National Educational Technology Standards for Students.) The reality is that most kindergartners use technology minimally. Your kindergartner may have one or more computer workstations in the classroom, visit a computer lab once a week, or not use technology at all. If technology is a regular part of the classroom, your child might use free time to play a kindergarten-level reading or math game, listen to a story on tape, or record her own story on the computer. It all depends on the school's philosophy and resources, as well as how much, or little, the teacher decides to use technology as an early learning tool.


Technological tools of the trade

Here are some things you might find in your child's classroom or school:

  • Computer(s) with access to the Internet (and Internet safeguards) and a printer
  • An interactive whiteboard
  • Video and still digital cameras
  • One or more tablets
  • Educational software that reinforces reading and math skills
  • Interactive story books on a computer
  • A large-screen display connected to a computer that the teacher uses to demonstrate a lesson to the whole class. (If none is available, the teacher may have smaller groups gather around the computer to introduce a lesson or new computer skill.)

At the kindergarten level, if your child's classroom doesn't have any of these bells and whistles, there’s no need to panic. Kindergartners don't need to know how to use a computer; there's plenty of time in upper grades for students to acquire these skills. If technology is part of your child's classroom, ideally it's used not for "play time" but to strengthen skills in reading, writing, math, and science.


Using technology to enhance reading skills

Young kids who use computers as a learning aid get early practice in keyboarding as well as refining their literacy skills. With audio books, software-based stories, and tales read aloud on the Internet, a child can listen to a beloved book as many times as she likes, which helps strengthen reading skills. The class may also be using phonics and reading software such as Read, Write & Type! These technical tools can be invaluable when a child is developing reading comprehension skills. According to Common Core Standards recommendations, kindergartners should be able to answer questions about key details of a text read aloud.


Tech tools that help with writing

Technical tools can also be a boon for kindergartners learning how to write. As spelled out in the Common Core Standards, with guidance from adults, kindergartners can "explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers." With an interactive story, a child can engage with characters, touch words to hear them spoken, and even "write" themselves into the narrative. Games based on books bring a student into the story so your child can begin to see himself as an "author." Digital book creation, animation tools, and other websites and apps can expand on this idea, letting children write their own stories or storyboards. Kindergartners might also use a free photo software program like Picasa to write simple captions for pictures or their own scanned drawings, which students can then add to a class blog on Typepad or Wordpress, or to a Google document or presentation.


Math gets a techno-boost

Multimedia tools can also help kindergartners reinforce basic math concepts. Kindergarten teachers often introduce students to simple computer math games that teach a child to identify shapes, patterns, and numbers or that help build counting skills. Your child may use draw and paint software programs to do a counting activity or create a pattern. Free websites like Khan Academy can help kids complete a full math curriculum, whether they  need to learn the basics or are ready to race ahead. A bonus for parents whose kids love playing with smartphones or tablets: a host of educational apps (like these) let children touch and manipulate math concepts on the screen.

Science is just a click away

In several years, your kindergartner will need to know how to research topics on everything from sea turtles to supernovas. Learning to do very basic research on the Internet can help him begin building these skills sooner rather than later. In an Internet-connected kinder classroom or computer lab, science can appear up close, magnified, in motion, and in exquisite, realistic detail via a white board, monitor, tablet, or computer screen. Children can watch close-up footage of whales, rainforests, or space. Using apps, they can play with animated versions of the elements in the periodic table or simulations of tornados or the night sky, too. With these tools, fostering your child’s interest in science can be as easy as a click of a mouse or a swipe on a screen.

With additional reporting by Miriam Myers and Christina Tynan-Wood