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Preschoolers on the Computer

by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

A common question for most parents is, "When is my child old enough?"  We wonder when our children are old enough for potty training, for a "big" bed, for any number of first steps.  But in a time when technology seems to rule our home lives as well as our work lives, many parents are stopping to ask, "When is my child old enough to use the computer?"

The answer isn't a precise age; much like every other milestone, each child will be different.  But professionals and researchers alike are beginning to agree on one thing: computers can be a powerful learning tool for preschoolers.  A recent article on Australian IT states, "We don't question whether to give a young child access to paper and crayons. We make them available at the earliest age that a toddler can hold a crayon and make a mark on the paper, a valuable lesson in cause and effect. In the same way, rather than talk about whether or not preschoolers should be given access to computers, we should just be getting on with it and finding ways to make it work."

The computer can be a valuable learning tool for children.  It offers an opportunity to develop small motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and can provide access to a multitude of educational and fun games. 

Still, many parents question whether they should allow their preschoolers to have access to the computer.  They are fearful that it will be too mature, or that it will just become another mechanical babysitter, overloading their children with images and sounds.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children, however, advocates the use of computers in preschool education.  Comparing computers to any other educational tool, NAEYC reminds us that computers can be a strong developmental learning tool.  With admonitions for parents to preview and supervise computer usage, NAEYC states in a position paper, "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."

So, is your preschooler ready for the computer?  The answer seems to be "probably."  Now is the time, then, to start talking about the computer, introducing age-appropriate computer activities, and spending time on the computer with your child.  Like any other emergent literacy activity you may do with your child, spending meaningful time on the computer can help prepare your child for school and for a world in which the computer has become a prominent tool.

Tags: preschool computer use, computer use, preschool education, technology education

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