At The Keyboard: How Young Is Too Young?
on when to get them started
plus dadmag's software guide.
your baby was born, you probably figured your computer was sacrosanct,
a friendly refuge. The keys were intact, the monitor fingerprint-free.
Raffi didn't jangle out of the speakers. You didn't know who Raffi
Life a little different now? One thing that's very different: the
huge number of fast-selling baby and toddler software titles out there,
propelled by parents who think it's never too early for a kid to meet
his mouse. Fortunately, a lot of experts think you should take your
time before making your child a full partner in your computer universe.
Two-and-a-half to three years old is considered by many to be the
earliest parents should plop their child in front of the monitor,
goes the general consensus. Babies and toddlers are primarily sensory-motor-based
creatures: they need to touch, feel, taste, bang, listen, and shake
everything in sight. While there are software programs that can turn
your thousand-dollar computer into a responsive busybox, there are
many other, more stimulating objects you can choose. "If you
want to throw away your money, that's fine, but you're better off
buying a pet rabbit or some Playdough," says Warren Buckleitner,
an educational psychologist and editor of the Children's Software
Sadly, most children's software packages often promote passive behavior
and may not be educationally appropriate for under three. "Kids
at that age don't need to learn to rhyme, to spell, to make meaning
out of the alphabet," says James Oppenheim, a children's software
expert and technology editor of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. By age
three, children's gross motor skills have usually developed sufficiently
to begin to control the computer mouse, and kids are able to understand
what the computer does. But there's no need to rush what will eventually
be inevitable. By age six, your child will probably have cluttered
up your desktop with his projects and have you browsing Circuit City
for a second computer. Get used to it.
to get your child started at the keyboard? Here are some tips before
you take off:
Watch out for squirming.
Don't expect your preschooler to sit silently at the computer for
any length of time (as if!). Your three-year-old might be interested
in a five-to-ten minute session, while a four-year-old can probably
last 10-15 minutes.
Let your child drive the activity (is there any other way?)
Your child's interests and motivation should help you decide what
and how much to do at the computer. If he's into the game, great.
If not, let him go; he'll be back, eventually.
Remember, it's their game.
You may have bought the latest and greatest piece of software, but
your daughter just wants to play and click on your old unplugged
keyboard and pretend it's a cash register. At least you won't have
to worry about her spilling juice on your keyboard or putting a
piece of American cheese in the disk drive.
The goal: Instant feedback.
In the preschool years, software should be highly responsive and
child-controlled. The second you click, something should happen:
the cat meows, the dog barks, the cow jumps over the moon...you
know what we mean.
The vast number of children's software programs use one programming
format, called Macromedia, and stick to four familiar types of games:
jigsaw puzzles, connect the dots, coloring books, and match games.
Why? Because they're so easy to write into the software. So with
many packages, you're basically getting the same toy over and over
again; the only thing that's different is the licensed character.
Look for variety.
Don't bother with a special keyboard.
You may be tempted to try to save your own keyboard from a horrible
fate by getting a special one for your child. But children's keyboards
are mostly just colorful versions of the adult ones, and plugging
and unplugging keyboards is both annoying and bad for your computer.
So unless your child has his own computer, you might need to learn
There are some
terrific software titles on the market that are appropriate for
preschoolers, if you choose carefully. Here's what DadMag recommends:
(KBGear $49) Ages 3 - 6. www.kbgear.com
- a steering wheel, attached to your computer, especially for kids.
Studio (KBGear $59.99) Ages 4-12. www.kbgear.com.
-- A drawing "pad" lets children paint and animate on
the computer. Comes bundled with Disney's Art Studio 2.
Tools (Hasbro $49.99) Ages 4 & up. www.hasbro.com
-- A gadget/software combo that comes with a toy power drill with
a light pen inside that can be used to control the action on the
screen. The drill can be turned into a virtual nail gun, sander,
wrench, and power paint brush by a simple twist of a knob.
Lego My Style
Preschool (Lego Media, $9.99) Ages 3-5. www.humongous.com
-- Interactive activities take place in a world full of familiar
Lego DUPLO animals.
One Stop Fun Shop (Humongous Entertainment) Although designed for
ages 3-8 it's really a better bet for the younger end of the range.
(Scholastic, $19.95). Ages 4-6. www.scholastic.com
A fun reading and letter game for your four-year-old; type any letter
or word and the computer illustrates it.
Goldman Edry is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written
for such publications as Parenting, Child and American Baby.
in DADMAG.com is meant to be distributed freely to interested parties.
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