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Preparing future teachers in the classroom and teaching preschoolers to use computers go hand-in-hand at the Children’s Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Students from the University’s Professional Development School (PDS) in the College of Education and Applied Professional Studies who began working with children at the Children’s Center this year found themselves doing more than art activities and reading stories.

“We were told that a computer would be in the classroom and we weren’t surprised that the children could play games on the computer — but they already understood the concept of e-mail. They send a letter and they get a letter back. The Children’s Center is wonderful at implementing developmentally appropriate training. This computer training helps prepare them for the kindergarten classroom,” says PDS student Julie Nixon. “It’s easier to grasp the concepts you are being taught because you are seeing it in the classroom,” she adds.

Carolyn Parker, who teaches four-year-olds at the center, says the PDS students can see the value of computer training for young children. “It helps establish good hand-eye coordination as well as pre-language and pre-writing skills.”

Dr. Tom Bibler, head of the University’s Teacher Preparation Academy, started the PDS four years ago to provide valuable hands-on experience for students. “We wanted to provide real field experience for our students. More than just visiting a classroom, we wanted them to see what teaching is like and what a teacher’s day is like,” says Bibler.

A better working knowledge of child development also gives the PDS students an edge in the classroom says Suzanne Maxwell, early childhood specialist and teacher at the Children’s Center. “They have been through their child development classes. Now they can gain valuable hands-on experience. Their participation is a definite advantage for the Children’s Center, too. They have freed me to spend more time one-on-one with the children.”

Carmen Pinson, a junior in the PDS program, says she has gained the ability to see children in different states of development which has given her experience and confidence. “This program will help you know if you are teacher material,” she says.