MINNETONKA, Minn. -- "Knock, knock, sheep in!" A preschooler in the Minnetonka district doing what preschoolers do. He's playing with a toy farm set.
Tate is engaged and playing in an age-appropriate way. That's a win for teachers at the Minnetonka Community Education Center.
They believe they have an edge in their arsenal of teaching tools, and it comes by way of a technology levy passed in the district several years ago.
"We are so fortunate because there are very few districts like Minnetonka that have included their early childhood programming as part of their initiative when they had a levy for technology," said Early Childhood Special Education Coordinator Mary Miller.
Minnetonka included technology throughout its early childhood programs, from preschool to daycare. It covers special needs children and typically developing children.
Tate was using video modeling to learn appropriate ways to play.
"Video modeling is just a really easy and effective way to teach children within and without special needs how to do something," explained Brenna Noland, an early childhood special education teacher.
Noland and teaching partner Sarah Murray wrote a book on video modeling, and have produced numerous videos for their school.
"It can help a lot of kids learn how to do routines or how to play with toys more efficiently," said Murray. "If we just explained it, it would take these kids a lot longer to learn those skills."
The teachers use a Flip camera to take videos of students learning how to play with toys, take part in circle time, settle down from gym class, wash their hands. Anything that is part of their daily routine.
Students watch the videos individually on iPads, or on the classroom SmartBoard.
"Do you ever feel frustrated?" teacher ____ asked her roomful of preschoolers in the school's daycare program.
In addition to teaching skils involving classroom routines, Minnetonka also uses SmartBoards to help kids learn emotional and social skills.
"In terms of problem solving, in terms of peer interactions, in being able to handle the structure of a day, because if they feel good about themselves, they they wlll be ready to learn,"said Miller.
Using iPads, videos and SmartBoards meets students on familiar turf. "Technology is their world," said Miller.
None of this comes cheap, but Minnetonka is banking the investment now will bear dividends later. Judy Swett,who sits on the board of the Minnesota Division of Early Childhood (DEC) says research bears that out.
"When they enter school they are much more prepared for learning and going forward. Those children actually have a better graduation rate, are more likely to go into post-secondary learning opportunities and actually get better jobs," said Swett.
For Tate, the goal is much more immediate. His job right now is picking up his toys, which he does successfully, and with a musical flare.
"Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share, yay," Tate sings as he puts the last horse in the toy barn.