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Computer interventions for young children at risk to prevent reading impairments

This study’s main aim is to test whether children’s learning behaviour explains why they do not benefit from a literate environment.

Contact Adriana Bus


Despite an environment enriched with literacy-related experiences many children hardly make any progress in literacy. This study’s main aim is to test whether children’s learning behavior explains why they do not benefit from a literate environment. Of course, the study focuses on kindergarten children lagging behind in emergent literacy skills and tests their reading performance several times between kindergarten and grade 2.


To gain a clear understanding in how kindergarten children respond to early literacy-related experiences we make use of a computer programme that is designed to promote activities that most children naturally develop between 4 and 6, and with which children play once a week spread over a three-months-period. It is composed of 40 different tasks broken down in seven sets of increasing difficulty.  In the first four sets children practice recognition of their own name and in the fifth set they practice recognition of the first letter of the proper name.  The last two games stimulate children to identify a word that starts with the first letter of their proper name (game 6) or a word with this letter at the end or in the middle (game 7).


The computer programme registers every tenth of a second where on the screen the mouse is positioned and where is clicked thereby enabling researchers to reconstruct how children proceed while they are solving each of the tasks.  Based on these registrations it is possible to specify the duration of problem solving, the number of (random) clicks, the number of steps that are needed to find the correct answer and the kind of support that they need to find correct answers.   

Learning behaviour as predictor

This computer programme thus enables us to explore learning behaviour as predictor for reading problems and impairments during the first two grades. Children who often fail tasks of the program may develop serious reading problems in grade 1 and 2. They need more intensive experience and support to develop alphabetic skills. Children with weak executive functions may process the input in a different way than children with normal executive functions. It is expected that children who are less reflective show inflexible task behaviour: they may click too often, too fast and they make too many errors.