Learning Computer Skills
There's an ancient Greek myth about an ingenious inventor called Daedelas who constructed wings that could be stuck onto people's arms with wax. He made some for himself and for Icarus, his son, and off they flew over the sea. Unfortunately, Icarus, didn't listen to his father's warnings, and flew too close to the sun. The heat melted the wax, and he plummeted to a watery grave.
Many educators and parents see computers and the internet as providing unlimited and amazing opportunities for children to soar to heights that previous generations never dreamed of. Yet there are also groups who warn that excessive immersion in technology, without enough respect for boundaries may ultimately be as destructive as was Icarus's over-enthusiasm.
The BenefitsPaediatricians generally recommend that children under 2 should not be exposed to screen media at all. Up till age 3, toddlers are busy learning to walk, talk and socialize, and most experts agree that computers just aren't relevant yet. Most children begin their initiation into the information age at around age 3-4, and there are a lot of studies that show that they can benefit in many ways when computer skills are taught and practiced wisely. Advocates of nursery school computer use point to evidence that quality software and the internet can help to build basic cognitive skills like hand- eye coordination, letter and number recognition, attention span and fine motor skills, as well as boosting self confidence, comprehension, memory, problem solving and creativity.
Electronic books combine reading writing, listening and speaking to help children develop literacy skills. If a child doesn't understand a particular word, she can highlight it and the computer will read it to her. Teachers usually place at least 2 chairs round each computer, and group computer work is usually encouraged, so ideally children interact together while at the computer. It thus becomes a social activity, nurturing social skills like sharing, taking turns, asking questions and group problem solving.
The DisadvantagesSome parents and educators are skeptical about the benefits of early immersion in computer skills. They say that if children start learning computer skills too early, it may disrupt important mental skills like listening, paying attention and focus. It's even been suggested that computer usage can alter the way a child's brain develops, as it doesn't exercise the brain and body together in the way that normal childhood play does. The critics believe that learning to throw and catch a ball and climb a tree are far more important than manipulation of a computer mouse. They also point to the dangers that crop up further down the road.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Western society, and is clearly linked to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. There are also those who believe that ergometric problems like repetitive strain injury may plague the generation that is growing up hunched over laptops.
Childhood computer competence and confidence, coupled with the solitary nature of computer play and inadequate parental supervision is also blamed for increasing childhood exposure to inappropriate content of violent or sexual nature.
The FutureParents who are concerned about giving their children the best possible start in life may well become confused when faced with the computer conundrum. On the one hand, we all know that in this high tech age, those with access to information will always get ahead. It's hard to imagine a child without computer skills succeeding in our world. On the other hand, none of us wants our offspring to fall into the myriad of snares that are all very real worries.
Throughout human history, great technological advances have always had great potential pitfalls. How can we stop our Icaruses from flying too close to the sun? There probably isn't any one easy answer, but a sensible and moderate approach are probably the best – ensure parental supervision and explore computer games and programs together with your child. Make sure that computer time doesn't take away from socializing, reading books, outdoor play and all the other traditional childhood activities.
Monitor and limit the time spent on the computer, and try to integrate it into outside interests, so they can learn to use the computer as a wonderful adjunct to activities rather than an interest and activity in and of itself.