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.