This post is by regular contributor Sarah Bendeich of Oesch and Doots.
I don’t share my laptop with my (preschool aged) children. Actually that’s not quite right. We occasionally use the internet for research if the children want to know more about something. Google Images and Wikipedia are the perfect tools for ‘those’ questions – you know, the ones beginning with Muuuummm (or Daaaaaddd). Recent examples heard at our place include:
- Do all owls have ears that stick up?
- Is it snowing in Germany today?
- Why are baby penguins brown?
- Can you get to Antarctica in a plane?
- Were there dinosaurs when Nanna was little? (actually I didn’t bother to look that one up)
We also use the computer to look at family photos together, and we like to do those natty little photo slideshow things. But we don’t ‘do’ games or kids websites.
Why not? I’ve been trying to unravel my reasoning and it’s a bit murky, mainly because I don’t know if I’m ‘right’. It’s just an instinct, which sometimes, as a parent, has to be enough.
I feel comfortable with a limited amount of kid’s (non-commercial) TV, although not every day and preferably when the toddler is asleep. The idea of my children using computers for recreation however? It just doesn’t feel right. I should add that my children are two and four. And that given how quickly things change around here, my views may well have shifted by this time next year!
I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this one – everywhere I go I see toddlers playing with their parents’ iPhones and most of the children in my social circle can navigate to and around their favourite children’s websites. My nieces and nephews all have DS’s and Wii’s and DVD players in their family cars… There are computers for the four year olds to use during free time at Doots’ kindergarten, and they use an Interactive White Board (IWB) as a group (which I think she finds a bit ho-hum!)
So why is it not for us? Several reasons.
Following their lead
Our two children are chalk and cheese. And there are two very different reasons why I don’t think computer use is beneficial for them.
Doots is an introverted, gentle and imaginative girl. She’s all for peace and quiet and has a pretty low tolerance threshold for loud noises, crowds and hyper atmospheres. Too much stimulation frazzles her.
Avoiding the computer has been easy for Doots. She’s never bored, has a long attention span for open-ended creative activities and she entertains herself freely. So I’ve never really felt the need to resort to computer games to ‘keep her busy’ or to extend her. And if I need to occupy her while I’m cooking dinner for example, a lump of playdough and a few tools or a sheet of paper and some crayons are always failsafe strategies.
Oesch, on the other hand, is all about fast cars, loud sirens and rough and tumble. I can’t imagine him sitting still for long enough to play on a computer. He’s also only just two. I imagine that as he gets older he’ll show interest, but it’s such a sedentary experience that I won’t be encouraging it until he’s at school, and even then it will be restricted.
It’s a poor sensory experience
Young children’s nervous systems are shaped by their own interactions with their world – everything they see, hear, feel, smell and taste develops and strengthens neural pathways in their brain. Rich sensory experiences are really important for a young child’s developing brain, and I just think that using a computer is (a) a poor sensory experience, and (b) a missed opportunity for a richer sensory experience.
Compared with almost any other form of play – building with blocks, playing with dolls, playing with sand or water, riding a bike, rolling on the grass, dressing up, singing, playing with cars, looking at a book, dancing to music, cooking, banging on a drum, modelling with dough, drawing, chatting to a parent, painting – using a computer seems visually over-the-top, lacking in input for the other senses, and with the exception of the mouse hand, requires no movement.
Young eyes and screens
The computer certainly offers lots of visual stimulation but the problem for me is that it’s bright and unnatural, and also that the distance between the screen and the child’s eyes is fixed and constant. As a designer, I used to work at a screen for hours on end (usually leading up to a deadline) and I remember the discomfort… and the yearning to look at a distant horizon, to ‘stretch’ my eyes.
We have evolved to expect a range of different focal lengths, and our eyes can take us from the ‘close work’ of reading or sewing, to scanning the horizon. If a child is playing outside, for example, their eyes are regularly refocussing – from inspecting the detail of a snail’s shell or making a daisy chain, to gazing up at the clouds or spotting an aeroplane, to digging in the dirt, and playing with friends.
All parents of young children will know that little ones are REALLY good at recognising brands and logos. I imagine this is because their brains are primed for language acquisition, and to learn how to read. Letters and numbers are symbols after all.
Marketers understand the potential of the preschool audience – it is enthusiastic, uncritical and frighteningly easy to influence*. And the internet is one big advertising-fest, even (or especially) when it comes to kids sites. I have a problem with my children being part of this audience and primed for brand loyalty, and so for me the logical decision for me to just avoid it.
What’s the rush?
At Doots’ school, the kids are issued with MacBooks in Year 5. So by the time they’re 10, they’ll be using a computer every day for school work.
Am I concerned that my kids will be left behind their peers? That they’ll be tech-poor? Not in the slightest – there’s plenty of time for them to catch up. And there will be plenty of new concerns for me to grapple with when they do start! But for me, right now, computer literacy is just not a priority.
How about you? I would really love to hear what you think about computers and young children. Is there a place for computer play at your place? Am I being over the top?
*Consuming Innocence: popular culture and our children, by Karen Brooks.