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Robotics and Early Childhood Education

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kids and technology. Today they are inextricably intertwined. Our modern children are fascinated by video games, computers, text messages and cell phones. What could be more natural than using that interest to get them excited about the very things all those electronic gadgets represent: science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM)?

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On-going research

The Developmental Technologies Research group of Tuffs University has recently set out to try and understand the ways in which our children interact with technology. The program was designed to study how new technologies play a role in our children's learning and development. Researchers at Tufts are trying to develop "technologically-rich interventions" that are designed to help young people as they grow and learn in a world full of technology.

The group's research projects have included studying the best ways to integrate computer classes at the kindergarten level, creating virtual communities for pediatric patients, and looking at ways that parents can become involved with children and robotics. They also have a website called the Early Childhood Robotics Network which offers ways to, in their own words, "connect and support educators using early childhood robotics." Resources on the site include teaching videos, curriculum guides and an overview of several high-quality robotics kits. The "robobytes" tab provides a frequently updated series of links to relevant news.

What you can do at home

According to Jon D. Miller, director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy based at the University of Michigan, in his 2012 article for Scientific American, "The Value of Bringing Science Home," where STEAM subjects are concerned, great teachers are important. But, he points out, parents who encourage their kids in the pursuit of math, science and technology increase their chances of raising "the next Mark Zuckerberg or Mae Jemison" by a factor of five. Parents, he says, "are the essential root of scientific literacy."

His tips for parents who want to "bring science home" include:

Choosing toys carefully - There are many fun learning toys to choose from. Many of them actually target computer programing, math, and science. Find ones that interest your child and he will be learning the way children learn best: by playing.

Making use of zoos and museums - We've mentioned this on our blog here at Hendricks in the past, but it is important enough to repeat. Whenever possible, take your children to our area's zoos and museums. When you are on vacation, look up any museums and science exhibitions that might be in the area. Far from the dry displays of yesteryear, many modern museums have fun and fascinating hands-on exhibits designed especially to catch the imaginations of children.

Setting an example - Let your child see your own curiosity about the world around you and also how you satisfy that curiosity. Is there an unidentified plant in your yard? Let your child see you look it up online or ask a local plant expert to identify it. Are you trying to edit a family video? Let your child help you decipher the program.

Surround your child with fun, interesting and useful technology and encourage his interest in science. Do this, and you will have taken the first steps toward raising a STEAM-literate adult.

image credit: mariakraynova /

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