Computer Play and the Internet

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Technology is transforming our imagination and our culture. We have virtually instant access to anything known, thought, or felt and, consequently, powers that were earlier described as magical. The future of this magic compels us to learn a new language of mixed meanings, ambiguities, and confusion of tongues (Pesce, 2000). Computers, the Internet, video games, and electronic toys are the new electronic playgrounds for children, combining three forms of games: practice, symbolic, and rule governed. They are also the new information network, requiring a great deal of practice to gain mastery for advancement. They allow players to engage in the as-if quality of fantasy worlds. They present a set of rules that must be discovered and mastered to win the game. The convergence of these three forms of game playing sets video games apart from traditional toys, and this combination of features may help explain the appeal that video games hold for children (Kafai, 1998). Malone and Lepper (1987) identified fantasy, challenge, curiosity, and control as major features attracting children.

Issues about appropriateness of computers and video games for preschool children are passionately debated. There is little question that preschool children can use appropriate computer programs (Clements & Nastasi, 1992). The critical issues are how and to what extent they should use them and what role computer use will play in their lives.

When computers are used appropriately in the context of complementary resources, they can have positive effects on self-esteem (Clements, Nastasi, & Swaminathan, 1993), intelligence (Haugland, 1992), creativity (Haugland, 1992; Reimer, 1985), literacy (Fein, 1987), problem-solving skills (Clements, 1986), exploration (Escobedo, 1992), use of tools in playful ways (Henniger, 1994), and provision of microworlds for children’s learning (Baird & Silvern, 1990). Computers also hold possibilities for broadening imagination and skills, even for young children. Guided play is a valuable tool for sustaining the joy of childhood while building foundations for cognitive and social development (Singer & Singer, 2005).

Despite the evidence of positive results from computer access and use, the Alliance for Childhood (2000) published a critical analysis of computers in education, and called for a moratorium on further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education. It claimed that computers pose serious health problems for children including eyestrain, obesity, repetitive stress injuries, and possible physical, emotional, and intellectual damage. Additional side effects include taking time from play, physical activity, and bonding with adults. The Alliance position focuses on the need for children to develop imaginative thinking, critical skills, personal interactions with adults, and engaging their hearts, minds, bodies, and hands in personal interactions not commonly received in computer activities. Too much of their computer interaction is with inappropriate adult content, aggressive advertising, and trivial games.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation (2001), examined both sides of the issue and concluded that the growing use of computers raises both the promise of enriched learning and the risk of possible harm. Children in low socioeconomic area schools and homes generally have more limited access to equipment and fewer opportunities to use computers than more privileged children. A major problem in schools is the lack of computer training for teachers. They also warn against possible hampered social development, depression, loneliness, obesity related to inactivity, and repetitive motion injuries. They do not believe that sufficient research is available to predict the long-term effects on children’s social, physical, and cognitive development.

Technology is obviously a two-edged sword, offering both advantages and disadvantages (Ginsburg, 2001; Silvern, 1998). Computers can exert pressure on young children and detract from them valuable life experiences such as free play, art, music, and social interaction (Barnes & Hill, 1983; Brady & Hill, 1984; Elkind, 1981, 1985). Elkind warns that computers should not be allowed to replace traditional play activities, time for interaction with teachers, or give false impressions about children’s thinking abilities. Seiter (2005) argues that the Internet, allowing online chat and instant messaging, is an appallingly aggressive marketer to children and an educational boondoggle. In 2006, news reports from across the country detailed growing incidences of adult child molesters luring teenage children to sexual encounters via online chat rooms.

Haugland and Shade (1988), Dodge, Colker, and Heroman (2002), and Fischer and Gillespie (2003) offer guidelines for selecting computer programs that are congruent with the National
Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Developmentally Appropriate Practices (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997).

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