Computers and Young Children (page 2)
Recent calls for a moratorium on computers in early childhood education programs and elementary schools are an extreme reaction to the challenges posed by technology.
While recognizing that computers are reshaping children's lives in profound and unexpected ways, these calls focus on potential hazards of computers in the classroom. Though we must guard against any such potential hazards, the larger danger is that there are still far too many young children who have little or no access to computers and the Internet.
The children on the other side of this 'digital divide' don't benefit from new educational software, and they don't learn to use tools that will be a central component of our lives for decades to come.
In the end, a computer is a tool, just like a book, a pencil or a television. Computers can be used in developmentally appropriate ways beneficial to children, and like any other tool they can also be misused. There is considerable research pointing to the positive effects of technology on children's learning and development. That research also indicates that computers supplement and do not replace highly valued early childhood activities and materials, such as art, blocks, sand, water, books, exploration with writing materials, and dramatic play.
Rather than issue a moratorium on computers, parents and other adults should examine the impact of this technology on children, and make sure computers are used to their benefit, to develop literacy and cognitive and social skills.
To do that, adults need to take time to understand how children are using technology to learn and to develop new skills. Try going on-line at your child's school or your local library. Learn from your children by asking them about the ways they like to use the computer, and how they log on to the Internet. You may be surprised at how comfortable young children are negotiating this new world. You'll also show them that you care about their hobbies and interests.
Here are some steps families can take to protect young children from the hazards of the Internet and computer technology.
- Recognize that adult supervision and advice are essential. Just as we teach children how to safely cross the street, we should monitor what children are doing on the computer.
- Discuss and make rules with your children about when and how long they can be on-line, and appropriate areas to visit. Bookmark their favorite sites to provide easy access.
- Be in the same room when a young child uses the computer, or keep the computer in an area where other family members are usually present, to promote interaction and exchange about the technology.
Computers are redefining how we interact with others and gain knowledge about the world around us, and they are increasingly important in our daily lives. We can't pretend these changes aren't happening. By taking responsibility for children's computer use, families can greatly reduce potential hazards, and at the same time allow their children access to many new positive learning experiences.
The growing use of computers demands better monitoring, not a moratorium. At a time when many young children still cannot access this important technology, a moratorium on computers is the last thing we need.
Mark Ginsberg, Ph.D., is the executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. A version of this article originally appeared on the Connect for Kids Web site - www.connectforkids.org.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. © 2008 NAEYC
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