There’s lots of information about the benefits and risks of screen time (TV, computers, video games, etc.), lots of opinions on whether young children should or should not be exposed, and advice on making screen time work for your family. Some parents might choose to avoid screen time through their child’s preschool years, and some may not have access to technology at home.*
But, I think it’s important for parents and early childhood educators to know that basic computer skills and tablet skills are becoming a part of kindergarten readiness.
The picture above is from my son’s kindergarten classroom in the Lake Washington School District (eastside suburbs of Seattle). Every morning, during reading stations, one station is using computer-based reading programs, such as HeadSprout. They also use DreamBox for math skills. Computer-based programs are an engaging way to drill kids in some basic math and literacy skills. But only if the child knows how to use a computer.
Today I watched several kids using the software with no problem, easily navigating use of the touchpad mouse, and the touchscreen, and understanding concepts like minimizing and maximizing windows, using their fingers to magnify an image on the screen, and so on. And I watched one child who lacked any basic understanding of how any of that worked. He poked randomly at the screen, getting random results – sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. No real learning was happening during the almost 20 minutes he spent trying to figure out how the computer works. The learning value lost in that 20 minutes only puts him farther behind his classmates.
So, I’m now adding to my list of skills for kindergarten readiness. I would recommend that all kids entering public kindergarten (at least in areas that have computers in the kindergarten classroom) have these basic skills:
- know how to use both a mouse and a touchpad mouse – they know how to move the arrow around, understand the ideas of both clicking, and double-clicking
- know how to use a touch screen – again, both how to move the arrow around and how to click; bonus points for understanding gestures like pinch to make an image smaller, swipe to advance to another screen, drag to move an item. (Look here and here for two guides to all the gestures that are typically used on touchscreens.)
- have played with educational software / apps where they are given verbal instructions that they should follow
So, if you have access to this technology at home, consider adding in some computer skill learning for your child at least 3 – 6 months before they start kindergarten. If you want recommendations and reviews for kids’ games and apps, check out Common Sense Media.
If you don’t have access to this technology at home (In 2012, 72% had access to the internet at home. In 2016, 72% of Americans own a smartphone, which has likely increased the number of households with access to the internet), check whether it’s available at your local library or elsewhere in your community. Here in King County, all the libraries have public computers in their children’s areas that are loaded with lots of educational software, and will allow them to learn mouse skills and headphone use. (They do not have touch screens to my knowledge.)
I don’t think children need a lot of computer time – just enough to gain some basic skills and knowledge. The majority of a preschooler’s time should be spent engaged hands-on with their world, with time spent playing with open-ended toys, outdoor time, and free play time with peers.