Monday, May 23, 2011

Joy's First Visit to Simon

This morning, Grandma and I took Joy to the Simon Technology Center at PACER in Bloomington, where Joy had fun trialing preschool programs and alternate computer interfaces.

We thought Joy was ready because in free play at home, she is choosing to do increasingly complicated things, like puzzles that don't have lights or music --just the old fashioned kind where the satisfaction comes from knowing you did it. In this picture, she crawled over to her shelf, pulled down the first puzzle, and said "All out," meaning she wanted them all out at once. So I helped her get them all out.

While it may look babyish to see a four year old laying on her tummy on the floor, this is actually Joy's best position for play. She can get herself from one thing to the next by army crawling and the floor supports her trunk so she doesn't have to, leaving her arms free to play, not prop up in a sit. She also has perfect head control in this position because she's freed from the work of holding her trunk erect.

Joy's delayed gross and fine motor control limits the kinds of puzzles she can do on her own. But you can see she's very proud of almost getting the green oval back in the right spot (oval is a hard shape to seat perfectly) and is about to do the red rectangle. In the puzzle next door, she also has the grapes and the bananas back in the right places, even though her limited ability to rotate her wrist makes it hard to get asymmetrical shapes fully seated.

The problem continues to be that the toys that are accessible to her physically are below her cognitive level; conversely, most toys at her cognitive level presume physical skills she does not have. We've been hoping the solution lays in computer technology.

Going into the Simon Library, we were interested in trying an iPad (which I'm sure we'll eventually get). We don't own an iPad and it was great to be able to try one pre-loaded with preschool apps. for free. But we came home with an accessory that converts any computer screen into a touch screen because while Joy played with the iPad, she could more easily play the touch screen games which required less precision.

She was engrossed and talkative, two sure signs she was having a lot of fun. Here, the program prompted here to choose "Red." This was an oversized monitor and it took her a few minutes to get used to reaching up to the very top of her voluntary range--hence my hand under her elbow.

She figured out she could reach better if she put her left hand up, too, and leaned forward. But it confused the touch screen about her choices. In this picture, though, it correctly sensed that she had picked "square" as prompted.

It took her only a few minutes to figure out that touching the screen caused something to happen. In this game, the next letter in the alphabet would appear each time she touched the screen. When I prompted her, she could verbally predict what the next letter would be.

In this game, the little girl asked the clown for 10 balloons, who blew them up one at a time: one touch, one balloon. Joy loved watching the balloons inflate and float over to the girl's hand and waited for each balloon to be finished before she touched the screen asking for another one.

Although I wasn't thinking of this morning as a test, all the games were new to her and Joy had about 75% accuracy choosing colors, shapes, letters, and numbers as prompted --despite the fact that the motor coordination required to do so (touch the screen in a limited area) was new to her. So now we know we can branch out into odd shapes like "crescent" (Joy didn't recognize the word and called it "moon"); secondary colors, and can start working more on numbers --both recognition and correspondence. She surprised me by appearing to know the symbol and number of objects corresponding to 1-3.

The touch screen application will be wonderful for her eye-hand coordination because the only way for Joy to get the right answer is  to use her gaze to direct her fingers to the right spot on the touch screen. In this photo, she reached for the right shape, but didn't correctly gauge how far her hand was from the screen. So her fingers almost didn't touch the shape.

She's always been hard to test because she was good at indicating choices by glancing for so long before she could reach or verbalize that she's never fully given up indicating choices with her eyes. Presented with pictures of three shapes, and asked to point to the square, Joy will glance at the square, and echo "square," but her gaze will be elsewhere by the time the time her hand makes it to the table in the vague vicinity of the square. On a test, that doesn't count. But in the short time she spent at the computer this morning, I could see her figuring out that she had to look at her target until her hand completed the touch.

For a $50 per year membership to PACER's technology library, we can check out equipment and software for up to a month at a time. They'll even send it to us postpaid (we pay to mail it back) if it isn't convenient to drive to Bloomington to return and to check out new items. So we came home with a touch screen interface for our laptops, and two software titles to play with.

The plus of the iPad is that so many children's book titles are available. But the iPad requires a bit more coordination to use. The touch screen on the computer works much like a mouse click. But an iPad uses clicks and double clicks and right drags and left drags; the active command corners must be avoided. I bet within a year Joy will be to do all those things. And I think the touch-screen computer will help her develop the touch-precision to be able to uses an iPad by herself and read books to her heart's content any time she wants to.

If you live outside Minnesota, this link will help you find the technology lending library closest to you.

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