The Preschooler Goes Digital

According to the Internet security firm, AVG, 7% of babies have e-mail addresses.

Unnecessary? Probably. A sign of things to come? Definitely.

Our kids are growing up in a digital age. When we were little, our research was often limited to 20-year-old encyclopedias and our entertainment to Saturday morning cartoons. Today, our little ones have access to a world of information at their fingertips – a reality both terrifying and liberating.

If you think it might be early to introduce your child to computers, guess again. Emily McLean of Computer Bryte Kids, which offers Imagine Tomorrow computer classes for children in St. Louis, remarked via email, “Some children as young as 2½ years have the attention, understanding and eye-hand coordination to use the computers. However other children are not ready until ages 3-4.”

Since my 4-year-old, MJ, has been using the Imagine Tomorrow software at her daycare in Illinois, I’ve noticed the difference in how she approaches a computer. She no longer considers it just her personal Beyoncé jukebox, but an educational playground she can navigate through a few minutes each week.

But like many parents, I’ve had concerns that giving my kid access to the computer would steer her on a path to debauchery – that she’ll be flashing the world on Facebook when she’s in junior high or staying up all night playing Grand Theft Auto. However, McLean gave a few guidelines for introducing your little one to the computer and establishing boundaries.

 “It is important when introducing the computer to the child that they learn that the computer is used as a tool for learning, communication and gaining information,” she said. “For instance, teach your preschooler to use the computer to email a relative, look up directions, or find information on their favorite animal. Computers should not just be used for games, and screen time should be limited. There is a lot of great software and websites that focus on early academics skills and creativity.”

While learning computer skills early plays a role in building a solid foundation for a child’s future, they also aid in a child’s cognitive development today. According to McLean and an article in PARENTGUIDE News by Imagine Tomorrow founder, Judy Patterson, introducing children to computers while they’re in preschool can help them better understand cause and effect, improve their memory capabilities and enhance their visual discrimination skills, which are important for reading and writing.

After seeing how MJ enjoys her limited time online, I’ve already started mapping out her future career, whether she likes it or not.

“MJ,” I asked. “Have you thought what you want to be when you grow up?

“A princess,” she said matter-of-factly.

“You love playing on the computer. What about becoming a computer programmer? Mark Zuckerberg is a computer programmer and he’s worth like $6.9 billion!”

She responded with a roll of her eyes, which meant that unless Mark Zuckerberg wears glass slippers and is dressed by singing mice every morning, she could really care less.

So for now, MJ’s one hour of computer time each week is her time for learning and playing. Little does she know, she and her friends are building skills that will help pave the road for the future – whatever it holds.

By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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