A nursery laptop love story
It is not easy being four years old. Big brothers and sisters boss you around and play with your toys, while little ones get extra attention from Mum and Dad. Even when the nice ladies in the nursery give you a computer to take home, it's the same old story.
"Sarah thought it was great getting the laptop home because it was her computer," says her mother, Sandra Young. "But there is often a fight for it because her older brother wants to play too. The programs are aimed at nursery kids but he loves them, especially the talking books."
Ross Boyd's siblings are younger and smaller than him but what they lack in size they make up for in numbers. "We have twin boys, 16 months old," says Ross's mother, Alison. "They love coming to the computer and watching what's going on. They'd play with it too if we let them."
Sarah, Ross and their nursery classmates at Glenlee Primary in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, are taking part in an innovative project to provide children with computers and software to take home. While sibling participation was not foreseen, parental involvement was central to the plan devised by nursery teacher Faye Smith and depute headteacher Lisa Quinn.
"The parents come to school to be trained on the four laptop computers we have bought," says Ms Quinn. "We've also bought a bank of interactive talking books software aimed at nursery kids, because it's all about developing language and communication skills as well as ICT. The parents sign up for training with the computers and software and the kids take their laptop and CDs home at night and bring them back the next day."
Initial worries that parents might be reluctant to take part - the school is in an area where many are unused to computers, - seemed justified when only a handful volunteered at first. But word spread and now half of Glenlee Primary's 50 nursery pupils are participating, "coming home with a smile and a laptop," says Ms Boyd.
Lending laptops to nursery children has been tried elsewhere, but what makes the Glenlee Primary project notable is its inclusive nature. Three of the school's nursery children are deaf and the project was devised with them very much in mind.
While it might seem strange to use talking books with deaf children, there are great benefits, says Faye Smith, a nursery teacher for hearing impaired children. "It's a way of increasing their exposure to language.
"We are always looking for innovative ways to develop communication skills, because language and communication are a vital part of the pre-school curriculum. The project helps develop these with all the children and, in particular, it gives our deaf children access to a visual and exciting method of learning."
Ross's mother says that being deaf in no way dampens his enthusiasm for using the laptops and talking books. "He is really keen and has already become computer literate," she says. "He enjoys the comedy and the visual elements, and being able to click on the screen and make things happen.
"He doesn't have the language to understand the words yet but he follows the story. Ross picks up a lot visually and builds his language that way.
On each page you can do things and explain what's happening, like 'Let's see what the doggy does.'
"Sometimes he brings home the book as well as the CD, so we'll look at that and turn the pages together. It's another way for him to enjoy a book and it gives him new scope for learning."
While the youngsters show no fear of the technology, there was some trepidation at first among their parents. For example, Linda Kerr says: "I didn't know how to switch it on, so I was panicking a bit. But Mrs Smith's training was great and the prompt cards sent home with the laptops tell you everything you need.
"My daughter Jody had never used a computer before but now she's really good."
When asked to name the initiative's most important benefit to the children, all the parents mentioned development of ICT skills. Language skills and communication have clearly been enhanced too in quite profound ways that were anticipated by Mrs Smith and Ms Quinn when they devised the project plan last year.
Mrs Smith predicted: "Training programmes will bring parents into the nursery, involve them in their children's education and raise parental awareness of the importance of ICT. The children love to use the computers in school and will be excited at the prospect of taking one home to use with their parents. This in turn will promote communication in the family."
Ms Boyd puts it more succinctly. "It makes a huge difference, Ross coming home and wanting to play educational computer games with us, instead of just sitting in front of the TV."
Lisa Quinn and Faye Smith will present a seminar on Developing Language and Communication Using ICT: A ParentChild Laptop Learning Project on Thursday at 12.45pm