When to Start?
By the time your child is a toddler, he has probably figured out how to turn on the television, DVD player, and your home computer, and imitates you by banging on the keyboard. Toddlers love to "talk" on the telephone and point the remote control at anything, and can't escape the flood of technology that is present in our society today. Since you cannot keep this technology from young children, how do you go about teaching your children how to use it? What age is appropriate for teaching children about technology, and what are the benefits?
Infants and Toddlers
There is an abundance of technological toys available for even the youngest of children, including interactive language-teaching tools, but they may not be developmentally appropriate for the younger-than-pre-school set. In fact, the
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that "while a market for computer software designed specifically for toddlers and young children continues to grow, little is known about the actual impact of this new technology on children's developing minds and bodies." While it probably doesn't hurt to expose your child to safe technological toys, as a parent, you should consider whether there is any real benefit to replacing your reading to and talking to your little one with technology. Because human interaction is crucial, and you need to assist your child in developing his social skills, technology may be inappropriate at this age.
Three to Eight Year Olds
As children get older, though, parents should think of technology as a tool, one in an array of learning materials that children may use, but that parents control. Remind your child that there are many benefits to technology, but that, without active human participation, the benefits are negligible.
Determine the difference in active learning, in which a child interacts with software, and passive learning, in which children are presented with the on-screen equivalent of a fill-in-the-blank worksheet. Technology that encourages active learning is much more likely to teach children new skills.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), offers some excellent suggestions for determining what software is good for children. If the software "uses pictures and spoken instructions rather than written ones so that children will not need to ask for help, [allows] children [to] control the level of difficulty, the pace and direction of the program," and "children receive quick feedback, so they stay interested," then you've likely found a suitable program that will engage your children and build their computer literacy and verbal literacy skills. Look for software that encourages children to use their imagination and that appeals to their sense of sight and sound.
Keep a Balance
Because you are a parent, you are your child's first teacher, and you have a great deal of influence over what your child learns. Stay involved in the sorts of computer activities in which your child participates. There are many websites out there designed for children, and many of them have superb learning games that keep children engaged and sharpen their skills.
Technology should be part of a balance, though, of a larger learning environment. While your child will enter an academic and work world in which technology is an integral part, and he should be exposed to technology as part of his education, don't let technology use come at the expense of reading, social interaction, and physical exercise.