14th March 2003 at 00:00
For children in a reception class, there is nothing new about new technology - it's been there all their lives. "They see it in the supermarket, in the doctor's, at home, everywhere. It would be odd if they didn't see it in class," says Christine Terrey.

That isn't to say her classroom at Chyngton School in Seaford resembles the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Yes, there are computers, but they take their place alongside the books, paints and Lego.

Christine makes technology an integral part of her pupils' work and play, blending the ICT with traditional classroom activities. On the day I visited, pupils were engaged in projects related to medical services.

Dominic was building a skeleton out of Poppoids but, across the room, Ellie was creating hers by click-and-dragging the graphics in Mr Bones, a website accessed on the school's broadband internet connection. In one corner, a group were using powder paints to produce their masterpieces, in the other Nicole was using Microsoft's Paint to create hers.

Meanwhile, Lauren treated a reluctant patient using a plastic stethoscope and syringe then turned to the DreamWriter word processor to write a prescription. It may have a narrow LCD screen, but DreamWriter is ideal for the classroom. It's cheap, simple, robust and it has a full-size keyboard.

"They will have to master it eventually," says Christine, "so they may as well start now."

When she finished writing, Lauren undertook the fiddly business of connecting the DreamWriter to the printer. Of course, there are occasional breakages. "If you want children to learn how to use equipment you've got to let them use it and it will get damaged from time to time, but that's not a reason to stop them."

Lauren prints out her prescription just in time to join the circle for the daily literacy session with a big book - except this big book is a talking book, projected on to a big screen which makes it a little bit easier to see and a lot more exciting. Compared to the average video game, Sherston's Oxford Reading Tree cannot be called exciting - until you see what an inspiring teacher and her inspired class make of it. They decipher the words and predict every nuance of the electronic page before permitting Mrs Terrey to click on the voice button. The computer reads out the words, barely audible above the collective sigh of self-congratulation.

When the others go back to their medical duties, Lauren takes the Sherston CD-Rom to a PC and re-runs the story for herself, second-guessing the words to herself then using the voice button to check her progress. The PC has become Lauren's ideal classroom assistant, keeping her hard at work until Christine gathers the class for an impromptu sing-song. And for one of the few times in the busy day, new technology serves no purpose whatsoever.

Tips for teachers

* If you're unsure about ICT, start by focusing on one area until you gain confidence

* Set precise learning objectives in ICT for each child and monitor progress

* Check out the range of educational sites on the web (Chyngton School uses Granada's subscription service)

* Practise using new equipment before you ask children to work with it

* Don't underestimate young children's aptitude for ICT - it's remarkable how competent they can become




Becky Wood teaches at Wingate Community Nursery School, Wingate, Durham

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