Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When should my children play on computers?

Ms. Dorothy,
There is a lot of talk now about new technology and 21st century skills, but I'm uncomfortable having my young children on the computer.  Not that I'm afraid of computers, I just feel that there are better things they could be doing with their time.  I have friends that rave about their toddler's skills with a mouse, but I'd rather my kids were not into technology yet.  What do you think?
- Dad of a 3 and a 4 year old

Technology holds tremendous promise for education. It brings the whole world into the learning equation, and as it becomes more mobile and versatile, the potential seems endless.  

Preschool children, however, don't need any of it. 

The developing brain takes in information about the world through the senses, and builds connections with these experiences.  Active involvement and interaction between the child and the world is essential to learning. 

Any amount of "screen time" in the early years is actually time lost from doing those things the child is watching.  This goes for tv, computer and any other games or devices that do not allow the child to physically interact with what they are looking at.

The Wii, Kinect, and other interactive gaming programs allow children to virtually interact with things. However, seeing an avatar pet an animal while you make motions like you are petting it, is just not the same brain building experience as actually petting an animal, feeling it's warmth and fur, smelling it's breath, and having it react to your touch.  

Children, especially young children, need to have real experiences before the virtual and visual equivalents will have meaning for them.  

Let your children play, and create. Take them to parks and zoos and playgrounds, and give them experiences that build the network in their brains.  Then later they can use that brain to network in other ways.

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