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SANTA PAULA : Young Students Get Early Look at Computers

September 17, 1993|JEFF MEYERS

Every day for an hour, Santa Paula kindergarten and first-grade students put away their crayons and coloring books and sit down in front of computers.

The children, some too young to push pencils or spell correctly, learn phonetic spelling and creative writing using an IBM software program called "Write to Read."

Aside from increasing their writing skills, the program "certainly lets the children become familiar with computers at a young age," said Debbie Willeford, computer specialist for the six-school Santa Paula Elementary School District. "They love doing it and are enthused about learning."

The computers--12 to a classroom--are user-cuddly, patiently teaching simple sounds and repeating them dozens of times if necessary. A phonetic alphabet enables students to express creative thoughts without knowing how to spell.

"If you can say the word, you can spell it," Willeford said. "We allow the children to use inventive spelling. So a student can write a free-flowing thought without having to worry if words are spelled right or wrong. Getting their creative juices flowing is the goal."

Although many adults can grow two thumbs at the sight of a computer, some youngsters actually do better work using a computer than a pencil, which can be a barrier to learning for students lacking hand-eye coordination, Willeford said.

Studies have shown the value of introducing young children to computers. Earlier this year, a study of other Ventura County students using "Write to Read" showed them having writing growth two levels higher than students who didn't have classroom computers.

"Seeing the program in action is believing," Willeford said. "The program gives the children confidence. They write more and more because they feel they can."

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