Norwich youngsters lead way with new computers

Kim BriscoeYoung children with special educational needs in Norfolk are to benefit from a �150,000 technology boost.Kim Briscoe

Young children with special educational needs in Norfolk are to benefit from a �150,000 technology boost.

Children at 100 nurseries, pre-schools and children's centres across the county will have access to special computer, video and sound equipment to help develop their communication skills and support play and learning.

Earlham Early Years Centre in Norwich has been using the new computers and technology as part of a national pilot scheme, run by AbilityNet and which ended in March.

Following the success of that pilot, the Norfolk Play At IT Project, is now being rolled out by Norfolk County Council and will initially run for two years, supporting 50 nurseries, children's centre and pre-school in 2010 and another 50 in 2011.

The technology includes PCs with built-in touch screens, which have adjustable height and tilt for young learners, special chunky keyboards with a colour-coded mouse, switch-activated toys, such as teddy bears that speak and move at the touch of a large switch, sound recording equipment, talking photo albums and robust digital cameras.

The equipment is still being used at Earlham Early Years Centre, in Cadge Road, and has proved a big success.

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Pauline Chinnery, special educational needs coordinator at the centre, said: 'The aim was for children to manage to do things using the equipment that they may not be able to achieve without. The touch screen monitor has been extremely popular and successful. 'Children have enjoyed a range of programs on the computer which have developed skills and they have gained confidence through feeling successful when using the programs.

"Children have also developed language and communication skills and extended their vocabulary and communication confidence. It has been a good opportunity for children to share and take turns, make decisions and negotiate choices."

The pilot project helped provide a model to train staff on how they can develop their technology skills to support children with communication difficulties.

It was tracked and supported by Access Through Technology, part of Norfolk County Council Children's Services. The team is now building on that model and rolling it out countywide.

Anna James, team co-ordinator, said: 'Children with a range of disabilities can be restricted in how they learn through play. They may struggle to use traditional toys, make marks with crayons or join in with sand and water play.

'Technology can overcome some of these difficulties and provide a variety of alternative ways for young people to explore and interact with the world around them.'

Do you have a schools story for the Evening News? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email