Blocks, play, child

Though computers hold promise in their potential to help children prepare for kindergarten, studies show that low-tech activities such as block playing can help promote creativity and language acquisition.

More than 30% of children from families of lower socioeconomic status are not prepared for kindergarten. This problem has yet to be adequately addressed and is a key area of interest at the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development. Researchers at our center are testing the usability and impact of high-quality computer-based educational software delivered to low-income families to narrow the kindergarten-readiness gap and help disadvantaged children start school ready to learn.

More than 30 years ago, high-quality children's educational television (e.g., Sesame Street ) was developed to try to close the readiness gap. Such programs have been shown to improve children's readiness for school. Today, newer technologies may hold even more promise - though more low-tech forms of child entertainment should not be dismissed, one recent study  by center investigators showed that parents who played blocks with their children were helping to promote language acquisition and creativity. Computer games targeting preschool children are increasingly common, but many make unsubstantiated claims about the benefits they can deliver. However, there is reason to believe that the computer holds promise for bridging the kindergarten-readiness gap between children from poor and wealthy families.

Modeled on the success of educational television, the computer-based approach has some distinct advantages:

  • It can be tailored to an individual child's level and abilities.
  • It is interactive, as opposed to passive.

The extent to which the promise of this technology can be realized is not currently known, but the potential public-health benefit is large.