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Schoenbaum family gift boosts preschool's modern learning

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
December 10, 2013

Betty Schoenbaum looked forward to the fifth anniversary of the college’s Schoenbaum Family Center at Weinland Park in autumn 2012. She had every reason to be excited.

After all, Schoenbaum made a transformative gift to help build the center. She is proud to have launched the first early childhood laboratory school built by a university in a neighborhood of  need.

At the anniversary event, her family surprised her by giving the center teachers, a SMART Board, along with iPads. What better way to honor her than with the Cadillac of technology.

Today, the teachers at the center, which serves 106 children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 5 years, enjoy the cutting-edge technology that lets them modernize their teaching.

How technology transforms teaching for preschoolers

Five children ages three through five gather around the SMART Board in the second floor classroom at the SFC. Their teacher, Jennifer Lynch, is using the technology to enrich their learning about masterpieces of the art world.

When the children enter the classroom, the image of Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers lights up the SMART Board. They know this work of art and look forward to drawing their own masterpieces inspired by Van Gogh.

“What color of pen should we use for our drawing? Yellow or orange?” Lynch asks, offering specific choices so agreement is easier to reach.

Several of the children request yellow. “Should we have the lines thick or thinner?” she invites. The majority vote for thinner, and all five dive in with enthusiasm.  Much talking and laughter ensues as fingers fly.

“Look at my masterpiece,” one girl cries with pleasure. “Mine has dots,” a boy says. Yet another child , punctuates each mark she makes on the board with the note of a song.

Lynch said the children are practicing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, group decision making,  cooperation and taking turns.

“Some of the children have pads or tablets at home; some do not,” explained Anneliese Johnson, director of the early childhood care and education program. “Use of the board introduces them to touch screen technology. The Weinland Park Elementary School next door has a SMART Board in every classroom, so the children who transition there will already have a foundation.”

The SMART Board can also support dramatic play, as well as practice of academic skills, such as learning letters and numbers.

Teachers treasure iPads

iPads in every classroom were also part of the Schoenbaum family gift. The teachers treasure the tablet computers because they have special capabilities that make many functions easier.

For instance, the assessments of children’s progress is a daily function in early childhood education. “We can take pictures of a child’s work with the iPad on the spot, as they complete it. Being able to record conversations lets us examine children’s development of language use,” Johnson said.

Another important part of early childhood education is ensuring that children manage routines of the day. “The iPad is an excellent, portable place to keep notes and chart how children do, for instance at each transition from one activity to another,” Johnson said. “All the teachers can add to the notes, which can be analyzed and used to devise supports for the child.”

The iPads are also wonderful for enriching the curriculum, Lynch explained. “If we’re studying insects and a child finds a bug, we can use the iPad to take a picture of it. Then we can look up what type of bug it is and find more details about it.”

All in all, Betty Schoenbaum’s children chose a surprise for her that benefits the entire center.