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Rhiley's little fingers navigated their way around an iPad during her Early Childhood class at Brandon School. Contributed photo.

Getting a head-start with iPads

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news Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Kids used to bang chalk dust out of erasers after class. Now will they have to delete cookies?

Children in the Early Childhood program in Brandon are using iPads in the classroom, thanks to an Otto Bremer Foundation grant. Three to 5-year-olds started using iPads for learning in February.

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"The children are really enjoying them," said Heather Dewey, Early Childhood Head Start coordinator. "I can see they will be a great asset to the classroom."

Dewey observed occupational therapist Connie Johnson using an iPad in a small group setting. The two started talking about how iPads would enhance the learning experience of the Early Childhood group.

"The more I researched them, the more exciting it got," Dewey said.

Dewey wrote a grant proposal titled "iDevelop Skills with iPads - Enhancing and Expanding Early Childhood Skills." Almost $5,000 was awarded from the Otto Bremer Foundation - enough money to purchase seven iPads, protective covers and $500 worth of iTunes for apps. Dewey said she has acquired a variety of different apps to meet the needs of this year's class.

"I can purchase new apps every year to fit the needs of the children in the class each year," Dewey said. Apps can range from 99 cents to $100. Dewey said the more expensive apps are generally more specific. "For example, for a child with severe autism," she said.

Covers on the iPads protect the computer inside from bumps and sticky fingers - they're also sanitized daily. Should one of the iPads get damaged, the apps inside are protected in the Macintosh cloud. "I can access the apps from my work computer or from home," Dewey said.

The children each have a turn once a week for about 15 minutes to use the computers for different functions. Individual one-to-one sessions are also offered when time allows. Dewey said at this time, seven iPads are enough.

The children caught on quickly, Dewey said. She sat down with three children at a time and showed them how to turn the devices on and off and how to handle them gently. When the iPads were introduced into regular classroom sessions, the children recalled how to operate them.

"They have all been very intuitive," Dewey said.

Dewey selects three apps based on each child's needs. The children then use the iPads for tasks such as writing their names, drawing, learning shapes, colors and numbers, patterning, sorting and learning categories.

Although the iPads are a favorite of the children, they are a small part of the curriculum.

"We still strongly believe that children learn best through play," Dewey said. "The iPads are not to replace all the other things in the classroom, just an additional tool for us to use."

The Early Childhood program is designed to enhance and expand children's learning skills. The program, for children from birth to 5-years-old, works closely with the Brandon School's Head Start, Early Childhood Special Education, School Readiness and Early Childhood Family Education programs.

Dewey said Early Childhood's primary focus is on social-emotional skills, however, curriculum has been increasing in the lower grades.

"The expectations for a child going into kindergarten now is much more than the expectation for a child going into kindergarten 10 years ago," Dewey said.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

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