Buttons are fun. Just ask my toddler. Buttons on the TV, buttons for doorbells, buttons on the laptops—they’re some of his favorite toys. He likes figuring out how things work in the real world, what happens if he pushes this one or that one...what kind of reactions he gets from other people when he pushes them.
Right now, computers are games to him, games he encounters in passing. And that’s how I intend to keep things for a while.
He’s exploring his world, and I think that’s great. He enjoys and he learns. It is an active learning by a kid on the move, one who loves “outside” even more than buttons—mainly because most kids love the outdoors in the beginning, and that is what I encourage (for his health and mine). He loves the trees, the sand, the people he sees there, especially the little ones.
People. The missing component in the computer scenario is people, and one that is too often ignored in considering brain development and windows of learning in toddlers. Human interaction and guided exploration are the best ways for them to learn at this age.
So often I walk into a Sunday school classroom passively showing a video, or read an ad selling early education chock-full of computer learning, and I wonder where we’re going with this as a society. We’re so ready to jump on the technological bandwagon (if we ever even got off!) that we don’t stop to think how God has designed young minds and bodies, their need for lots of activity and to learn how to deal with people well—without a technological crutch to bolster communication (or even distract them completely from the need).
While occasional, brief exposure to computers and carefully-selected computer games is most likely harmless, fun, and a tool for technological learning, many experts believe that it should not be a primary component—or even a regular one—in education or recreation for preschoolers. This is the age to teach kids personally, to develop those relationships, those social skills, at a time when the window for learning such things is wide open.
The toddler years are prime-time for language learning (thus young kids’ ease at picking up other languages), while ages four through seven are great for emotional development (empathy, learning to identify and become comfortable with feelings). Auditory learning and listening skills development also occur in this early window, and these are things that cannot be taught by proxy...by computer.
Although the window doesn’t close entirely as the child ages, the opening does become smaller and smaller, so to speak. Thus the importance of framing learning within an interpersonal context—particularly given the mounting body of evidence suggesting that too much screen time at a young age (be it TV or computer) feeds into ADHD, impaired moral and intellectual reasoning, emotional disorders such as depression or anxiety, or just plain old difficulty learning unless someone “draws them a picture” or “edutains” them. Computers are good for teaching facts and reflex, but they do not foster critical thinking or complex learning. Not to mention learning the habit of sitting at a computer instead of doing something active contributes to the nationwide problem with obesity, leading to a number of health problems down the road.
So we’re left with the question: Why do we feel the need to introduce kids to computers to any large extent at such a young age? Do we, as parents, have feelings of inadequacy in the face of ever-changing technology? Is it just easier to let them stare at a screen than it is to interact with and teach them ourselves? Or are we simply not considering the brain’s fine design and specific learning needs at various stages?
Computers aren’t a bad thing; it’s how we use them that’s important. Integrated sparingly into a child’s life filled with a variety of activities, it can open up a world of learning. Overused (or simply used too soon), it opens one door at the expense of many others.
S/he’s a preschooler...there’s time enough to open that door later on—and still get a “jump” on technolearning.