I have been an avid computer user since 1990 and computers have been available for use in my childcare program. In the past we have had specific computer areas set up alongside the main play space
or in a separate area
The computers were always grouped close together and there were more chairs than computers to encourage cooperation and collaboration. After school this was the social hub for the school-age children and my teens who also acted as mentors for the less experienced users. Internet access was always restricted unless it could be directly supervised and the program options available were limited to what I felt were appropriate and open ended.
One of the favourite programs has been Pivot Animation — a simple freeware program that allows children to create videos using stick figures and drawings. It has no cutting edge graphics, no special sound effects, and no high scores. They could create freely — there was no right or wrong. They were learning basic computer skills, mouse control, and understanding the file structure to open and save their own creations. Drawing these animations requires some understanding of physics and the interaction between objects and because they often worked in pairs or groups to create these animations there was also a social component.
As my teens have grown to young adults and moved out of the daycare space they have taken their computers with them. The older computers have become obsolete and not been replaced. I still have one computer set up in the sunroom but it is rarely used by the children here. I am finding that many of the children are uninterested in any programs without high entertainment value – time fillers with little useful content – like watching TV (which has never been part of my childcare program).
I don’t believe that any of the so-called ‘educational’ computer programs do anything to enhance children’s learning or creativity – just memorization and following directions. These programs don’t allow for ‘free play’ – the open-ended learning the children enjoy most in their non-computer activities. Exploration and experimentation develops creativity, imagination and teamwork without a predetermined goal or ‘correct’ answer.
I do think that computers are valuable tools and it is important for children to learn to use them correctly and efficiently but is sitting a young children in front of a computer screen to play the way to do this. Sitting them at a table with wood scraps and woodworking tools or screwdrivers and old electronics are wonderful open ended activities that allow children to explore and learn about using tools. However, these activities require direct supervision and guidance and are not appropriate for all age groups. Computers as tools – not entertainment — are no different. I have considered purchasing one or two small laptops that could be used for a scheduled group computer time but I’m not sure the cost could be justified for the limited amount of time we would actually spend using them.
So for now, the lone computer sits idle in the sunroom waiting for a school inservice day when I’ll have a group of non-nappers who want to practice some computer skills instead of playing a board game or working on an art project.