Use of technology within 'Steps'.

Here are a few clips of our own apps and online resources. 


A number of studies in the literature have indicated that the use of computer technologies with young children can be beneficial and can provide children with an opportunity to learn and practice skills in an engaging and interactive environment. Roschelle et al. (2000) found that the use of computer-based technologies can be very simulating and motivating for young children. Hitchcock and Noonan (2000) found that computer assisted instruction of early academic skills was successful in improving skills. Johnson et al. (2010) studied 180 preschool and kindergarten children and reported positive changes in skills when using a computer-assisted instruction, particularly with linear sequenced materials. Li and Atkins (2004) reported that early computer exposure during preschool years was associated with the development of concepts and cognition. Children who use computers have been found to show greater gains in intelligence, structural knowledge, problem solving, and language skills compared with those who do not use technology in their learning (Clements and Samara, 2003Swaminathan and Wright, 2003Vernadakis et al., 2005).

Research on newer technologies such as iPods and iPad with preschool children has emerged. A number of these studies have looked at the use of these devices to promote literacy skills. Dobler (2012) in classroom of first graders observed that young children were able to successfully work together for literacy practice with limited teacher assistance. Beschorner and Hutchison (2013) used six iPads in two preschool classrooms of 4- and 5-year-old children over a 7-week period of time. Apps focused on classroom skills were loaded on the iPads biweekly. They found that the children could navigate and use the iPads independently. They also observed that the children developed emergent literacy skills using the device. Students could manipulate magnet letters to write their and their friends names and several students could identify letters and use the keyboard to write simple stories and books. In a case study of two preschool classrooms with 3–5years old, Flewitt et al. (2014) looked at the use of iPads for literacy activities. Their results demonstrated that literacy activities on the iPad stimulated children’s motivation and concentration. The preschool staff-recognized the potential for learning with the iPads and observed increased concentration in task completion, and enhanced communication and collaboration. Wong (2015), in a year-long qualitative study with 3–5 years old, found that young children can use iPads to communicate and learn. Children in the study were observed to gain literacy knowledge.

There have been several studies that explored the use of iPads for drawing and printing with preschool children. Couse and Chen (2010) explored the viability of tablet computers in early education, by investigating preschool children’s ease in acclimating to tablet technology and its effectiveness in engaging them to draw. A total of 41 3- to 6-year-old children were videotaped while they used the tablets. The study found significant differences in level of tablet use between sessions. The teachers reported high child interest in the task and the drawings produced by the children were typical to above expectation. Matthews and Seow (2007), in a small descriptive study, looked at the symbolic representation of 12 children ages 2–11 years using electronic paint on tablet computers. The researchers videotaped children drawing with both tablet computers and traditional media. Although they reported similarities in the children’s drawings using both types of media, they found that the tablet and stylus-interfaced technology was a superior tool for drawing. Patchan and Puranik (2016) looked at the use of iPads to teach preschool children how to write letters. They found that the haptic feedback provided by using a finger on the iPad to write letters helped young children learn how to write. They noted that using a finger was better than a stylus.

The use of iPads for play has also been explored with young children. Verenikina and Kervin (2011) looked at the potential for digitally mediated imaginative play with the iPad. They conducted case studies of three families with preschool children and found that the children were able to engage in imaginative play on the iPad. Murdock et al. (2013) examined the use of an app on the iPad to improve play. Three of the four children in the study demonstrated moderate and sustained improvements in play dialog that was independently generated.

Several studies have examined the used of the iPad into the everyday activities of the preschool classroom. Clark and Abbott (2016) looked at how the iPads impacted learning in literacy, numeracy and learning skills in a primary school. Improvements and greater readiness in the student’s ability to learn concepts in literacy and numeracy were observed by the teacher for all students including those with lower ability and special needs. They also found that motivation, concentration and confidence grew. Another classroom-based research study (Kucirkova et al., 2014), looked at the effect of a story making app on iPads in a preschool classroom. They found that the children’s engagement was higher with the story making app.

Although there is evidence in the literature regarding the use of iPads with young children, there is less information regarding the use of the iPad with young children with disabilities. Lee (2015) looked at the use of iPads in a case study of preschool children age three to five enrolled in two different preschool classrooms in a Head Start Program. A number of children had behavioral difficulties, some were English Language Learners, and several had hearing and speech impairments. The results indicated that the use of the iPad resulted in enhanced interactions between the children and the apps supported development. The children found the apps to be fun and higher levels of engagement and higher levels of motivation were reported. Another study also focused on children in Head Start programs. Brown and Harmon (2013), in a pilot study, looked at the efficacy of iPad applications in improving the literacy and overall academic skills in at-risk preschoolers. Their study included 24 children from five different Head Start classrooms. After a post-test on alphabet knowledge, matching, and number concepts, they reported that use of the iPad-supported learning in the areas of alphabet knowledge and number concepts. Zhen et al. (2015) looked at the effects of using an iPad application to teach four young children with disabilities to identify initial phonemes and found that performance was improved and the children enjoyed using the iPad. Chmiliar (20132014), in a series of two pilot studies with preschool children with disabilities, found that young children between the ages of three to five were able to successfully learn to navigate the iPad. In each of the pilot studies, preschool children with a range of disabilities used iPads independently at home over an 8-week period of time. The children demonstrated improvements in many preschool skills at the conclusion of the study. For example: many of the children learned to print their name using a tracing app, several children learned to count to 100, most of the children improved their ability to complete puzzles, and one child started to talk saying words specifically related to an app about trains on the iPad. Chai et al. (2015) examined the use of an iPad application with children with developmental delays to teach early literacy skills. They found that all of the students were able to learn the target phonemes and were able to generalize the skills across materials.

Several studies were found that looked at the use of iPads with young children with autism. Vandermeer et al. (2012) examined the use of social stories on the iPad to increase on-task behavior and attention with one 5-year-old girl with autism. The child demonstrated an interest in using the iPad and an increase in attention at the end of the study. Kemp et al. (2016) found that two young children with autism spectrum disorders were better engaged in media with iPad apps than with picture books. Other studies focused primarily on the use of the iPad to promote language. Ganz et al. (2013) in a study of three children ages three to four with autism, looked at the use of a picture exchange communication system (PECS) on the iPad compared to a traditional PECS. The PECS on iPad was as effective as the traditional picture system, and two of the three children preferred to use the app system on the iPad instead of the traditional PECS. Lorah et al. (2014) looked at sentence frame discrimination using the iPad with young children with developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. They had success training students to use the iPads as a speech generating device for labeling. King et al. (2014) evaluated the use of the iPad in the acquisition of requesting skills for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Their results showed that training with device was effective for this purpose. Still another study (Waddington et al., 2014), found that three young children with autism spectrum disorder learned to perform a three-step communication sequence using an iPad.

The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the availability touch devices such as the iPad in homes and schools that are readily accessible to even very young children. There has been considerable discussion in the media as to the value of these technologies for play and learning and as school programs that provide support to preschool children with disabilities and their families are considering the iPad as a possible tool for learning, further information on the effectiveness of this tool is required. There is a need to better understand the role of this and other touch-screen technologies in pre-school contexts and their implications for play and learning. 

Front Psychol
. 2017; 8: 660.

Published online 2017 May 5. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00660 PMCID: PMC5418351

PMID: 28529493

Improving Learning Outcomes: The iPad and Preschool Children with Disabilities

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