At the Brooklyn Preschool of Science, I’ve been using robots to make computing fun in my 4-year-old home for years.
When I decided to add math education to the 3 year old group, I didn’t want teachers to always operate robots. I wanted kids to have the ability to control robots on their own, even though 3 year olds don’t have the same fine motor skills as my older students.
Here’s how I use robots and other child-friendly technology to give all my students an outlet for free exploration.
Robots for 3- and 4-year-olds
For my 3 year old room, I chose the Sphero robot. It’s small enough that kids can pick it up and it’s easy to program. There are mats of different colors that kids lie on the floor and when the robot goes over the mat, it does something like “go straight,” “stop”, “turn left” or “turn right”.
Our 4 year olds use the KIBO Robot Kit to connect to our thematic unit study. For example, while they were studying bird migration, kids programmed robots to create a V structure and “fly” across the classroom.
Our students like to do shows for their parents to explain what they have learned about a theme, and the robots visualize that learning. For example, when we were doing a unit about colors, the kids wanted to teach their parents about the colors of the rainbow. The children worked in groups of three or four. Each student has chosen a color of the spectrum (ROY G. BIV). After choosing their color, they engineered their KIBO in such a way that the robot’s arm held a piece of paper in their chosen color. The groups then programmed their robots to move together so that all seven robots, showing the seven colors of the rainbow, showed a show for the family.
Some preschool teachers may be intimidated by the idea of doing robotics, but they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Robots like KIBO bring a deeper curriculum focusing on the coding process of that robot. Once they figure it out, they can do the fun part: attaching the robot to whatever they’re teaching,
This helps the kids to gravitate towards the robot naturally. They want to touch and hold them; They want to build order to see causes and effects. When parents see how excited their kids are, they often want to buy their own robot. I say, “You don’t need to. You can take it home on the weekends. “Many of them buy one anyway, because parents can’t believe the excitement and enjoyment their children are having.
3D printing for preschoolers
Another technology that all our students are excited about is 3D printing. What makes it really, really strong is its ability to connect with the curriculum. When we made a unit on a common machine, one of my teachers had a 3D printed pulley. So instead of holding a picture, he can actually teach the kids about Puli which they can hold in their hands.
While they were learning about the parts of a flower, the children printed 3D petals, stamens, pistols, filaments, all the different parts separately.
Combined with the 3D printing industry and creativity. If they design a structure, they can draw a picture of their structure and have a teacher make a 3D print of their creation. The kids are fascinated with the process and have something to take home with them.
Technology as a redirect
One way to use children’s fascination is to use technology for redirection. For example, sometimes we have a student who does not want to sleep. We don’t force kids to sleep, but it does make them rest. But if a child refuses altogether, we can say to that 3-year-old, “How about we print some 3D?” While everyone else is sleeping, that baby will be sitting there, and they are making.
Technology can be very therapeutic. If a student “spends a moment”, working with a robot or a 3D printer completely stops the child from thinking about this moment or what caused it. Their focus shifts to purely humorous, inquiry-based learning.
Only students do not like our technology. When I made my professional development on 3D printers, my teachers played with them for hours on end. Honestly, I’ve never seen my teachers as inspired, and it’s amazing how creative they’ve been in finding overall connection with their study units.
One of my proudest moments is seeing my teachers, even those who have been teaching the same curriculum for years and may be hesitant to add it, get excited about using this new technology in their classroom. When this happened, their energy became contagious and they were just as excited as the kids they were teaching. Everyone just wanted more.