There has been a lot of buzz lately around the importance of early childhood education (ECE).
From Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s campaign for universal preschool to Stanford Professor Sean Reardon’s research-based article on the importance of kindergarten readiness, ECE has become a major movement in our country, and it’s gaining a following of heavy hitters.
There have been a lot of advancements in ECE technology, including new apps, platforms, and tools. But how can we ensure that these products promote kindergarten readiness (“kindergarten-readiness”) while also instilling a lifelong love of learning in this new iPad generation?
Why Is “Kindergarten-Readiness Important?
A longitudinal study conducted in Santa Clara County, California researched the academic and social effects of kindergarten readiness. This study defined kindergarten-readiness in terms of 20 skills, which were boiled down to four categories:
● SelfCare & Motor Skills
● Social Expression
● Kindergarten Academics
The importance of kindergarten-readiness can be seen through the side-by-side graphs below. Taken directly from the Santa Clara Country report, these graphs highlight the differences between third graders who were poised to succeed when they entered kindergarten and those who were not.
Building To Play, Learn, & Grow
These graphs demonstrate the academic difference between the students who were well prepared for kindergarten and those who were not. It’s clear that students who were considered to be prepared had higher success rates in third grade. How can we, as game designers and children’s app developers, ensure that we are building for kindergarten-readiness? Here are a few tips:
1. Build Age-Appropriate Games
This is one of the most important aspects of ECE game development. It is crucial to fully understand the cognitive development and motor skills of your target audience. Games that are too difficult, too easy, or too complicated will not only have a hard time retaining a child’s attention, they will also fail to have any educational impact. Building ageappropriate games requires research, playtesting, and the willingness to iterate on a product.
2. Marry the Mechanics with the Learning Goals
Learning goals should be the backbone of any ECE product. They should be clear, concise, and based on informative research. These should then link directly to the mechanics of a game. In other words, succeeding in the game should BE succeeding with the learning.
3. Find out what the Zone of Proximal Development is—and use it
A psychologist named Lev Vygotsky introduced the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which is the optimal learning space between what a learner can do on their own and what they cannot do at all. In other words, the ZPD is where students can achieve success with appropriate help. All learning games, regardless of target audience, should be within the ZPD
and use adaptive learning mechanisms to keep learners there.
4. Make it Playful
ECE learning games should be fun. As Fred Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning.” For us, the implication is clear: We can best support early learning by making it playful. Games that are silly, colorful, interesting, challenging, and engaging—and that make it OK to fail and try again—will appeal most to early learners.
5. Design for Parents
Parents are the single most important learning resource in young children’s lives. Building an ECE experience with coplay and colearning (instead of “digital babysitting”) is arguably the best way to ensure that learning will happen. Developing games that not only provide opportunities for coplay but actively encourage it can help promote higher levels of learning.
Ultimately, ECE technology should have a sense of whimsy and encourage young learners to explore, create, and play. When designed well, technology can develop a sense of wonderment, equip young kids with important kindergarten-readiness skills, and inspire a lifelong love of learning.
Becky Fisher is the Marketing and Community Manager at Kidaptive, Inc. She loves building things that promote creativity and believes that education technology should be cultivating a generation of passionate learners. Becky has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. Twitter: @bfish921 www.facebook.com/kidaptive
Kidaptive, Inc., an awardwinning education company in Palo Alto, California, is the creator of Leo’s Pad, a series of adaptivelearning educational apps for preschoolers. You can find the Leo’s Pad community on Twitter (@Kidaptive) and Facebook ().
Education Week http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaignk12/
School Readiness and Student Achievement: A Longitudinal Analysis of Santa Clara and San Mateo County Students http://www.appliedsurveyresearch.org/storage/database/earlychildhooddevelopment/schoolrea
diness/lonqitudinalstudy/Report ALonqitudinaiAnalysis.pdf; image attribution flickr user andycarter