Getting ready to start school today is dramatically different than it was when we were children in many ways. Children are more aware of the adult world, more sophisticated and certainly more aware of technology and the internet than was imaginable even a few years ago.
So when preparing your child for preschool and kindergarten, be prepared how large a role computers will play in much of their early childhood education. From letter sounds to spelling tests, from research reports to science projects – there really is no portion of modern schooling that has not been affected by recent developments in computers and technology.
To best understand what your child will learn about computers and the internet in their first years of education begin by visiting the school. When children begin preschool and kindergarten, computer technology is not taught as a subject area like language arts and mathematics. There are no tests about computer components or the inventors of the internet. However, being familiar with the purpose and general use of a standard desktop computer will be helpful for children when they're allowed access to the classroom computer, often a small-group activity at first.
Today's teachers are finding that many students come with a relatively high level of knowledge related to computer usage and the internet, while others have no exposure to any computer technology. Having computer experience is not yet a prerequisite for most toddlers starting school, however for children with experience using a mouse and keyboard, many of the early tasks they will accomplish with the computer will be easier than for those without any prior practice. When tasks are easier and more familiar, children generally enjoy them more and are able to go beyond the basics to get a head start on the fundamental skills being taught with the technology (rather than having to focus on just learning the technology).
So how do you give your child the right amount of computer experience before school?
Start by accurately assessing what they already know. Many parents are surprised by what their very young children are able to learn from their friends, the modern cartoons on television, and by watching mom and dad use the computer. School-aged children are generally eager to have a conversation with their parents related to how much they know about computers, even if it's not entirely accurate.
Spend time with your child on the computer discussing rules and demonstrating some fun, safe activities that can be done online, like:
Time spent using a computer mouse can help develop hand-eye coordination, while learning to use a computer keyboard is a great way to practice basic letter recognition skills and early spelling. By beginning to develop these skills when they are young, you will help your child be more confident during computer time in the first years of school.
There are many other areas to consider when introducing modern computers to children, including online communications and internet safety. Part II of this article will discuss these and other more advanced topics further.