Equipping the Computer Learning Center
By Angie Dorrell, M.A.

Monitor, CPU, hard drive, disk, and software are terms that until recently were unheard of in early childhood classrooms. As technology has entered the early childhood setting, numerous studies have been conducted and articles written about choosing developmentally appropriate software and incorporating technology into the daily curriculum, but what about choosing equipment and furniture for the computer learning center? What is appropriate? Are there special considerations? The answers to these questions and more are outlined below.

 

Computer Equipment

What equipment is required for a basic computer setup?

A basic computer setup requires a CPU (central processing unit), monitor, mouse, speakers, keyboard, developmentally appropriate software, and an appropriate desk or workstation.

 

Are a mouse and a keyboard necessary for young children?

Perri Helms Kersh, vice president of marketing for HACH (an early childhood and special needs technology company), suggests that a standard mouse is a must. If a child is having trouble mastering the fine motor skills needed to operate the mouse, you might want to consider a large, trackball-type mouse like the Microsoft Easyball or KidTrac.

 

Most developmentally appropriate children’s software does not require a keyboard to access the program. However, older children may be ready to try some keyboarding activities. There are alphabetical keyboards made for children. However, as computer use becomes more common it makes sense that children begin learning on the standard keyboard instead of having to relearn at a later date.

 

What other equipment is available to enhance a computer setup?

A printer and a touch screen or monitor are not absolutely necessary to have a quality computer center, but can add an additional dimension to the children’s computer experience.

 

 Children can use the printer to print out their work and art creations. In fact, projects started on the computer can be continued in other learning centers within the classroom. Children take great pride in being able to print out their work and share it with their parents, teachers, and classmates.

 

Kersh suggests that a touch screen offers children a positive experience with the computer the very first time they use it because it allows the child to manipulate software with a simple touch on the screen instead of the mouse or keyboard. In situations where access to computers has been limited or in programs with a number of students who have difficulty with fine motor skills, a touch screen is an especially valuable addition.

 

There are many other luxury add-ons for a computer system including scanners and digital cameras. These enable the children to add pictures or scanned artwork to their computer creations. Drawing tablets are also fun luxury tools that allow children to draw on a natural, flat surface which is then transferred to the computer screen.

 

Computer Workstation

What is an appropriate size for a computer workstation? The table or workstation should be large enough to hold all the computer equipment and still have room for two to three children to gather around each computer. Kersh recommends a table or workstation that is at least 42 inches long for one computer or 60 inches for two computers. Mike Sigsbee, owner of School Solutions, Inc., recommends the depth of the unit to be 30 inches to accommodate the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The workstation should be adjustable to accommodate growing children, down to at least 18 inches and up to as high as 26 inches. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently highlighted a study that supports the importance of adjustable workstations for young children. Studies found that poor posture, primarily due to the monitor and keyboard or mouse being too high, is associated with neck, shoulder, back, arm, and hand discomfort.

 

What material should the workstation be made of?

Sigsbee and Kersh both recommend hardwood tables or workstations. Sigsbee adds that another, less expensive option is a child-sized steel computer table with laminate work surface. Be certain that the unit has some type of steel understructure to support the weight of the computer, to prevent bowing in the middle.

 

What other criteria should I look for in a computer workstation?

 

  • Cord management is extremely important in classrooms. It’s best that all cords disappear around the back of the computer and workstation. Cords can be bundled together with Velcro or twist ties for easier management.

  • A unit with locking casters allows the entire computer desk to be moved easily and safely when necessary.

  • The monitor should sit directly on the desktop, allowing children to view it at eye level. Children should not have to strain themselves to look at the screen.

  • The workstation should allow for the CPU to be stored beside or under the tabletop. Curious fingers are much more likely to stay away from the CPU if it is on the floor, or better yet, locked in a side-mounted CPU stand.

  • The unit should have a lockable cover on the CPU holder. This keeps wandering hands from turning the unit off when in use or from inserting items into the slots.

  • Stay away from units with slide-away keyboards. These models are typically not sturdy enough for daily use by children.

  • If security is an issue, consider a workstation that can be closed and locked entirely.

 

What types of chairs should be provided for the workstation?

All chairs in the computer learning center should have appropriate back support and fit under the computer table properly. In addition, the children’s feet should be flat on the ground when sitting in the chair and their eyes should be level with the monitor.

 

Computer Center Placement in the Classroom

What should I consider when determining where to place the computer center in my classroom?

The computer table should be placed against a wall with direct access to a power source. The computer center should also be safely away from any water source (such as the sand and water table), magnets (even small ones typically found in the science center), and windows that might cause a glare on the computer screen.

 

References

Oates, S. et al. (1999). Computer stations get failing grade. American Academy of Pediatrics News,15(5), 2.

 

Dorrell, A. (1999). Tips for Furnishing the Learning Environment. Earlychildhood NEWS, 11(4), 32-36.

 

National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996). Technology and young children: What parents should know. Early Years Are Learning Years.

 

The Computer Learning Foundation (1992). Palo Alto, California at http://computerlearning.org.

 

 

Angie Dorrell, M.A., was the director of curriculum for La Petite Academy, one of the nation’s largest providers of early childhood education programs. She also serves as an NAEYC accreditation validator and commissioner.


Mike Sigsbee, owner of School Solutions, Inc., may be reached at solution@qni.com.

 

Perri Helms Kersh, M.Ed., is vice president of marketing for HACH, an early childhood and special needs technology company. For more information about computer furniture or implementing technology in the early childhood environment, call 800-624-7968, send e-mail to perri@computersforkids.com, or visit the HACH website at www.ComputersForKids.com.