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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mark Glaser for PBS - When should a young child first use a computer?


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I saw this short question by Mark Glaser in PBS' Online Media Shift Digital Guide Weblog, which might include my comments if I am lucky.

I stifled the response, "When they have enought RAM not to ram it." Click on the title below to get to his original article and the comments which are, of course the important thing.

His article is in blue and my comments are in our festive green.

When should a young child first use a computer?
by Mark Glaser, 10:43AM

It seems like kids are getting soaked by media at earlier ages with each passing generation. Is that a good thing? When my son Julian was 18 months old, one mother of a teenager warned me: “Avoid screens for as long as possible — TV, videogames, and computers — because once kids get used to them, you can’t get them off.” I thought that was good advice, even though I have been immersed in screens for as long as I can remember. Now my son is 3 and 1/2 years old and he loves typing email messages to his grandparents, and is obsessed with trying a kids’ paint program on the computer. Is the time right for him to use a computer?

What age is best, and why? How early should kids go online and experience the Internet? What about videogames? How do you limit your kids with their screen time?

My thoughtful reply.

My son started watching the iTunes display while the baby sleep folder played as an infant. As soon as he had enough manual dexterity to push a key, less than 6 months I think, he had learned how to change manipulate the colors and shapes a little by hitting several keys on the left side of the keyboard and to change a song he didn't like by hitting the right arrow key.

He also learned to hit the space bar to stop the color show.

He thought the colors and patterns on the screen were fascinating. As he got tired he would look at them, sometimes in wonder and excitement, other times with curiosity and the desire to control something, anything, at a time when he could hardly walk.

Did he get to sleep any earlier? Hard to say. It did not reduce our Father/Son reading time, it just expanded our quiet rocking together time where we were nonverbally experiencing the music and the lights together.

Of course, eventually he got old enought to understand just why, I liked to put on Hushabye Mountain at bedtime and that started to be the end of that.

He has had constant computer time since then but we have carefully kept him from understanding as much as we could, that the cd reader in the computer was also a DVD player given the incidents with Chocolate syrup in one DVD player and Grape Jam in the VCR of the DVD/VCR combo. After I got that working I caught him hanging from the DVD tray and that ended that.

So we have tried not to let him have any non-guided time at the computer, but nearly all of it, you will be glad to know is at PBS.Kids and related sites.

Once he was talking, I asked him where he wanted to go and he said "Pbs.Kids" and I said, how do I get there? And he said, you just click that circle, it says PBS Kids.

Of course it did. If those of you reading this know the logo it is very distinctive. What shocked me was that before 2 he knew "that it said PBS kids" and when I asked him to clarify that point he was quite specific.

Some of this I have to blame on PBS Kids.

First of all, he has never been satisfied with age appropriate stuff either on TV or on the computer.

His first love were the music videos from Between the Lions and if you haven't seen When Two Vowels Go Walking, struggled with W Trouble, been pressed into Vowel Boot Camp or seen any other of the wonderful reading videos there you don't know what you are missing.

These alone justify his computer time. But there is a lot more. For example, today, at 3 we were zooming through an early level of Mrs. Percival's Spelling Game at the Bob the Builder's website.

Now, did he get those letter skills from the computer alone? From T.V.?

Of course not, he has many dozens of books to choose from and it is a rare day when my wife or I don't spend at least an hour or two scattered through the day reading to him, pointing out letters in words. Compared to that, his reading time is inconsequential, his TV time is not.

The key barrier to more computer time is his own manual dexterity, which is turning the corner and his natural preference for being active, which is a great thing.

But as long as it does not get out of hand, I see the home computer and a safe monitored internet connection as excellent ways to help his growth into what he wants to do in the future. Like any other thing though, from chocolate to swimming, you have to watch what your child is doing.

While some things, like pouring soda on your Mac get less likely as children age, there are always some dangers to be found in anything kids approach. As parents, its our job to share the way with them in a way that makes it possible for them to learn to pick smart health ways on their own.

That's a job you have to start as early as possible. Skip some part of life, or wait till they are 5 or 6 and the train has already left the station as far as I am concerned.

Peter, Chief Editor and Spell Wrecker
The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Satire and Commentary

In fairness, if you make a comment on this post, please make it on Mark's Blog first, only then on mine. After all, it was HIS, question.
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