When my mom was in college in the 80’s (and I was somewhere around age 6 or 7), she managed to often tote me around with her to her computing lab, which was full of terminals with orange LED displays. and I taught myself BASIC on one of these. It was not only an invaluable experience (since I’ve always felt very comfortable and capable on computers), but as a woman in her early 40s now who makes her living programming, I esteem it as one of the most formative.
So, of course, as my three-year-old daughter is growing in the way she interacts with the world, I am both very cautious and optimistic about how to help her form a positive relationship with computing. It’s definitely a different world than I grew up in. My mother never put restrictions on how much time we spent on the computer when I was a kid, and I know that without the hours and hours I spent painstaking copying hexadecimal programs printed in Compute’s Gazette, or the summer I saved all my babysitting money to buy a Commodore 128, I wouldn’t be who I am today. However, with the realities of the manipulative nature of social networks and more and more, apps in general (especially those built for children), I feel a bit flummoxed as to how to proceed wisely.
Presently, my daughter does have her own iPad mini, but we try to save her use of it for trips and emergencies. We’ve just found that letting her have daily access to it is too damaging overall to her attitude and attention span.
I’m also thinking ahead about at what point she could be interested and want to use computers. For instance, at our local library, there is software installed for preliterate, pre-school age, in which they both use they keyboard (to identify letters and start learning to type), and they also learn to use the mouse. This seems very positive, particularly since there is some (perhaps illusory?) intended function of teaching written language.
I know this is an incredibly broad and complex topic, but I would love to hear more about how other families with geeky parents have found positive or productive solutions to introducing children to computers.