Friday, April 27, 2007

Early Childhood Computer Use

One of friends is a technological Luddite. The computer she and her husband have in their home is about as old as I am, and they don't plan on getting another one anytime soon. She has a two year old little girl, Emily. Emily's an average child, funny and athletic, learning a lot every day. One day, I brought my laptop with me to their house and pulled it out to show something I had been working on and Emily was very curious about it. She wobbled over to me and watched what I was doing with my tiny portable mouse for about a minute, then grabbed it out of my hand and started navigating the menu on the screen. I kid you not. It took her about a minute to figure out what her parents insist they had never before shown her.

I'm reading a great deal lately about introducing computers to younger and younger students, including preschool students. At a conference I am helping to plan, two of the sessions address this very topic--at the teachers' requests I might add. Parents of our students constantly ask me for resources they can use with their 2 or 3 year old children.

On the one hand, I attended a great lecture by Dr. William Stixrud "How Today's Technology Affects a Child's Brain, Personality and Social Development" that pretty much said children are often not neurologically ready for computer use at this age period! He cites Jane Healy's 1999 book "Failure to Connect" and the Waldorf School approach to the issue. On the other hand, you have brain research on multitasking, like the NPR article "How Multitasking Affects Human Learning" which basically says that while it decreases the quality of the information learned, it can be done fairly well. A different part of the brain is accessed when trying to incorporate information acquired during focused versus multitask environments.

That leaves me with the question, will our brains evolve to multitask at greater and greater rates and increase the quality of information? If children are engaged in this process from the earliest ages, will it become innate the same way that it seems to be innate for a child to grab a mouse and move it around?

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