How much value is there in children under school age using computers? Well I’d say there can be considerable value. Computers play such an enormous role in our modern world and it seems appropriate for children to be introduced to them at an early age. That’s not to say they will necessarily be greatly disadvantaged if they start school without a basic knowledge of computers. However, seeing as they will almost certainly be expected to do a lot of their school work on computer from quite an early stage, the sooner they can become computer-literate, the better. After all, in earlier grades there may only be one or two computers available per classroom – and with classes of 20 to 30 students, they are going to be very limited in how much time they will receive individually.
Very young children seem to pick up computer technology so naturally – much more easily than adults. Our six-year-old is already teaching us things he’s picked up himself. That’s not so surprising where I’m concerned as I consider my computer literacy is still very elementary. I do the things I need to do in order to achieve my reasonably limited purposes – and if I need to know anything new I ask my husband. He knows much more about computers than I do. But our little boy is even teaching him bits and pieces he’s picked up on his own now. Recently I asked my husband how to fix something – and before he could even respond, our son said, “I’ll show you what to do!”. Whereupon he came straight over and fixed the problem in an instant. My husband then admitted he wouldn’t have had a clue what to do.One of the reasons children learn so much so easily is that they are not afraid to experiment. I’m reminded of the Wiggles DVD where Captain Feathersword says, “What’s this button for?” – and next thing they’re bound for an unknown planet! As adults we are often too nervous to try new things – but that’s how children learn so much.
Now I do have to admit that our son has occasionally caused us big problems because he’s done things he shouldn’t have on the computer. So if you aren’t happy for your child to possibly get into mischief on your PC – either accidentally or on purpose – maybe it would be best to get them a cheap second-hand computer of their own.
Having said that though, I don’t believe it’s wise for children to have their own computers in their bedrooms – particularly if they have access to the internet. Not only does it encourage them to be anti-social and not mix with their families – but there are so many serious dangers they can be exposed to. It’s really important for them to only use the computer in a room where there are other family members around a lot of the time.
While there are so many dangers on the internet though, there are also many fantastic kids’ sites. Our little boy began to use the computer when he was about four years old. He’d seen the Australian ABC for Kids site advertised while he was watching his favourite kids’ TV programs and was keen to check it out. He just loved it. The games and puzzles on that particular site are excellent and really are very educational. It wasn’t long before we found numerous other websites that were also of enormous educational value. He soon had a long list of favourites he could access easily.
Then, as he developed interests in dinosaurs and the latest kids’ movies, he began to research them on Wikipedia and other websites. We were just amazed at how easily he was navigating his way around the computer and the internet. In all likelihood it has contributed to his phenomenal literacy too. He has been “googling” things from a very early stage in his computer experience. Sometimes he asks how to spell words – but that’s even become much more rare. If he gets a letter or two wrong, Google will usually ask if he meant the word by its correct spelling. So, being like a little sponge, he probably remembers in many cases how those words should be spelled next time anyway.
I can’t help but think that all of these things are contributing to his all-round education, comprehension and lateral thinking. His general knowledge is just incredible compared to what mine was at his age. I wouldn’t have even known a lot of what he does now when I was a teenager. His father, who has always been a bit of an “egg-head” himself even says he wouldn’t have known anywhere near as much as he does when he was six.
Now, while I don’t necessarily believe that children are better off today than we were in those simpler times, the fact is that they have been born into a fast-paced, smart world of amazing information technology. The better they can cope with technology and take advantage of the knowledge at their finger-tips, the more competent they will be to cope with school and developing their future careers in such a world.
Already it has been noted by our boy’s teacher that he is advanced with his computer knowledge. This has also been an advantage with him doing tests that the government requires children in our city to participate in from the beginning of kindergarten. The first test is carried out within a few weeks of the kids starting school and I feel sure some of the children wouldn’t have had a clue about using a computer. This would surely make the task even more daunting than it would inevitably be anyway. So I was really glad our son was so comfortable with this media by the time he started kindergarten.
Of course balance is very important in children’s lives – as it is with adults as well. It’s a sad thing if a child becomes so wrapped up in the world of technology that they don’t spend time playing with toys, going to parks and socializing with other children. I’ve often told my son that I don’t want him turning into a computer nerd with no other interests and poor social skills. Like adults, kids can easily become addicted to the computer – and that’s not a healthy thing. It’s just one of many challenges parents have to face in this modern world.
Honestly though, for those parents who really don’t want their preschoolers to be playing on the computer at all – or who simply don’t have a PC – it’s not such a big deal. I managed to keep our little boy away from the computer till he was about four. It would have been possible (though not very easy in our case) to wait till he started school before letting him use it. He’d possibly be nearly as advanced already anyway.
It has to be personal choice. In our case, I think it’s been more positive than negative. My husband has probably wished at times that there was one less person in the family hogging the computer though. More often than not our son is ready to jump into the computer chair the moment I’ve finished a Helium article or reading/writing emails or surfing ebay, etc. The man of the house is often heard to complain about how rarely he gets a chance to enjoy his Flight Simulator hobby! He even dreams of having his own computer exclusively for that purpose!