Kids and Computers: Rebutting the Naysayers

I keep meeting parents, computer programmers especially, who do not want their elementary-aged kids using computers *at all*.  I met a former Waldorf dad the other day (a programmer), who was appalled that there was a computer in a kindergarten classroom, and that third graders were being taught how to use Microsoft Office. 

I get that the AAP has guidelines for maximum ‘screen time’ for children.  I get that we want kids to be active, not passive, with both their bodies and their minds.  I get that many parents are concerned about the violence, sexuality, commercialism, values, and political/philosophical messages that kids who consume media take into their developing minds.  I do – I get it.

But this thing against computers, both about learning how to use them and allowing children access to them, especially if connected to the internet?  This I do not get

Here are my responses to the six major objections many parents have to their elementary-aged kids using computers on a regular basis:

My kid needs to get exercise.  Here you will get full agreement on my part, but don’t get used to it.  Kids are very unlikely to get much, if any, exercise, while using a computer.  The same could be said for reading, eating dinner, or brushing their teeth, but these things are considered valid reasons for non-aerobic activity.  Just saying.  😉  Limit setting may be appropriate, but I really don’t see how this could be a reason to deny access altogether.  Moderation is key.

I want my child to be socially engaged, not sitting alone at a computer.  Aside from the obvious solution of using the computer *with* your child, your kids needn’t be alone online.  I know you know about email, and about blogging, or you wouldn’t be here.  How about facebook and twitter?  Sure, kids are talking a lot of rubbish on there, but that is the message, not the medium.  How about asking your relatives for *their* facebook and twitter names, so your kids can be in better contact with extended family?  How about getting into the conversations WITH your kids, talking WITH their friends?  Don’t barge in, but be available, share your interests and values in a way that your kids can pick up or not, as they see fit.  Social media *can* be a place for thoughtful discourse, even for preteens.  And for those not yet reading well?  Skyping with cousins and grandparents is a terrific way to bridge the miles, esp for folks who might have trouble understanding preschoolers on the phone. 

I want my child to think critically, not observe passively.  Long gone are the days when all educational content was simply a matter of clicking on a green arrow to advance to the next page.  Computers do a lot more than just read text to kids these days!  From lessons-on-demand, with quizzes to check for understanding (a la Kahn Academy), to seemingly infinite games embedded with cutesy graphics that *gorgeously* hide the fact that all they *A*L*L* involve scaffolded critical thinking skills, along with either math or language development (Webkinz.com, and, now, your account never expires), computers are THE place to go for independent exploration and in-depth critical thinking skills development.  I love watching my four-year olds learn a new game on Webkinz; they are easy to learn, but nuanced enough, as the levels go up, that *I* frequently lose hours to them, and really stretch my own problem solving skills in the process! 

My child needs to learn how to write on paper before they learn how to type.  How many words per day do YOU write on paper, as opposed to type on a keyboard?  Yes, handwriting skills are definitely something kids should learn, if only for grocery lists, and fine motor skills development, but typing on a computer does several things that handwriting simply *cannot* do:  it allows kids to concentrate on the words they want to write, instead of on the  mechanics of the paper and pencil, and it allows for easy editing, which any language arts teacher will tell you is pretty much *the* hardest thing to get kids to do.  By being able to hit backspace with a keystroke, use copy and paste to move sentences (and thus) ideas around, the *meaning* of the writing becomes the focus, rather than the mechanics of manipulating it.  (Have you *tried* to edit on paper lately?  My crossouts, carrots, and rewrites scrawled up the margins make it very hard for me to keep track of my thoughts or the flow of my work, and I’m an adult!)

Kids need to learn how to spell, not let spell check do it for them.  Assuming that one is not using autocorrect (with good reason, given some of the hilarious mistakes it makes), spell checkers still ask the user to decide if the computer’s suggested corrections are appropriate or not.  I’ve actually learned how to spell BETTER as a result of spell checker, since I frequently don’t know that I *have* spelled something incorrectly until I see it underlined in red.  My grammar has improved as well, thanks to little green lines.  Having an alternate spelling presented to a student who *then has to decide if it is appropriate* is far more challenging for the developing speller than just having their words crossed out and the ‘correct’ spelling written in for them. 

Children need protection from all of bad things on the internet.  This might not be what you want to hear, but your kids ARE going to run into all of these things eventually.  No, I do *not* think that means that they might as well do it now, but at least if they DO run into them as kids, despite having any internet-linked computers in view of parents, despite having parental control software installed (if desired), at least they are encountering these things in their own homes, where they can turn it off and turn to you with their questions, fears, and concerns.  PAY ATTENTION to what your kids do online, and you can watch their worlds grow in positive directions.  Just like you wouldn’t drop your three-year old off at the playground unsupervised, don’t leave your child alone on the internet.  Common sense parenting, folks, not a problem with either playgrounds or the world wide web. 

ASK your child’s teacher what they use their classroom computers for, and why.  TALK to other homeschoolers for their favorite programs and sites for their children.  EVALUATE how you use a computer for personal and professional use.  COMPARE how your students use computers at home with how they use them at home.  Computers are tools; tools that can be used for good or ill, for productivity or indolence.  Used wisely, with good parental guidance, a computer can be a really important tool your child can use to build their education and safely explore their increasingly digital world.

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10 Responses to Kids and Computers: Rebutting the Naysayers

  1. Kristen says:

    I’ve also heard the complaint that technology is moving *too* fast. I am always stumped when I hear that one. So what then- you want your kid to stay behind!? Maybe if you ignore technology you won’t hear it as it whizzes by???

    That being said, I find it sad that abbreviations like LOL and OMG are finding their way in dictionaries. I hate when I get an email filled with “text talk”.

    I fully intend on utilizing technology with my children but not dropping the basics. We won’t be using calculators until I know they have math mastered. We will still take the time to learn cursive even though we have numerous word processors in the house.

    I want my children to be established in today’s world but to have a strong foundation of the lessons from yesteryears. We stand on the shoulders of giants after all; it’s best not to forget that or we’re liable to fall.

    • Siggi says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kristen. 🙂

      Yeah, the desire to leave one’s child at a technological disadvantage is one that I don’t get either, but maybe folks figure that tech will be so advanced by the time their kids are adults that learning it will be effortless? I don’t know.

      Not a big fan of text speak myself, but I’ll admit to using a touch of it now that I’m trying to be pithy in 140 characters, though! That said, it has its place, and regular writing isn’t it. (I DO love my emoticons, though. I think they add the variables of tone that online conversations so easily miss. Mea culpa!)

      My friend Bon, at MathFour.com, wrote a piece that would agree with you about calculators the other day, and I rebutted it in the comments. It might be worth checking out, if you are interested. 😉
      As for cursive, I have no intention of teaching my children how to write it. I DO plan to make sure they know how to READ it, because that is part of literacy, but they’ll find their own ways of writing quickly without getting confused by letter shapes that have no resemblance to their printed counterparts. I do calligraphy, so if they want to learn it for the looks of it, that is one thing, but for speed? I simply don’t see the point.

      I agree that we stand on the shoulders of giants, absolutely. I hope to help my kids understand the processes those giants went through, so that they too, might make great strides. That said, I don’t expect them to do it by candlelight with a quill pen, unless they wish to do so. 🙂

  2. Daddy says:

    Maybe the most important thing for parents is to stay up to date ourselves. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by change. It’s easy to feel left behind. I’ve felt it, and we’re a pretty “tech savvy” family. Both Siggi and I have strong science backgrounds. I think it’s important to stay up to date and connected to the world, though. To adapt with change, and be aware of what’s happening – and what we can do to both educate and protect our children effectively. Because this stuff is not going to go away. And our kids will need these skills all their lives – in fact, strong computer skills will probably be among the most vital skills anyone can have in ten years (if they’re not already!).

    And if we’re not working hard to stay up with change, we’re going to be a lot less effective in educating our children to live strong and healthy lives in the future that lies ahead.

    • Siggi says:

      Hey hon! Thanks for commenting!

      So, to what do you attribute so many programmers choosing to keep their own kids away from computers? Do they figure that kids will be spending their adult lives on them, so the less time they spend now, the better? Pardon the pun, but how does that compute?

  3. Bon Crowder says:

    I agree with you on 67% of your points. Writing on paper and learning to spell are essential. Of course I would give the same argument for spell check that I do on calculators – and thanks for the left-handed plug btw 😉

    I’ve started to use spell check only to see when something is wrong. I’m trying to avoid right clicking and letting the computer change it. I look, identify what’s wrong and correct it myself. If I don’t know, I’ll write the word (handwriting) and then look it up (online) and compare the two. This way I can avoid the mistake again.

    As for handwriting. Although I’m okay with kids on computers, I think that they should write thank you notes by hand. If they had to do that for every present or formal visit then they should get enough practice.

    • Siggi says:

      Ah – you and I use spell check differently. I type in the best spelling I know, or ask my husband, or google the word to check my spelling, THEN use the built-in spell check once I’ve finished the document. I’ve never even thought of using it like a short cut like that!

      I completely concur that handwritten thank you notes are a wonderful thing. Typed ones are better than none at all, but they really are a poor second over hand-written ones! My crew like to send hand-illustrated cards to folks they love. Drawing is good pre-writing practice, and who doesn’t love little kid drawings??

      As for the left-handed plug, between the two of us, I figure we can keep all calculator camps happy. Why not!?! Poor thanks for your direct plug of THIS blog, granted! Hopefully my smackdown PR for #HSmath makes up for it?? 😉

  4. Kristen says:

    Thanks for the heads up on MathFour.com. I love the premise of that website. Unfortunately for me math has always been a long string of 4 letter words. I am determined not to let my children know that though. I signed up for the newsletter and hope to find some advice on tackling this most tricky subject.

    • Siggi says:

      You can SO do this, Kristen. Seriously! There is a great book by one of my personal heros, Marilyn Burns, called Math Phobia that I need to write a post about here sometime, but I’m going to suggest you go read it NOW.

      Also? I am completely serious about wanting to help you with this. Let me know where your kids are with their math skills and understanding now, and let’s see if we can’t, together, think of ways that you can make math come alive, happily, for all of you. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Kids and Computers: Rebutting the Naysayers (via Turkeydoodles) « Scratch по-русски! :)

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