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Moms Talk: Computers and Kids

When's the right time to introduce kids to computers? Medford parents chime in.

Welcome to Moms Talk, a weekly feature at Medford Patch where local parents discuss a hot-button issue. Let's jump right in to this week's question:

The school district is considering a plan to give every student at the high school a laptop. When do you think the right time is to introduce kids to computers? And do you think giving every high schooler a computer is a good plan?

Adrienne Szafranski: As long as they don't use them during ! 

No, seriously, access to and aptitude with technology will keep every student on the right side of the knowledge and education gap.  However, it's one thing to propose this in a school that ISN'T falling apart and to propose it in one that is. 

Medford High equipping every student with a laptop or other device would be the icing on the cake, but what we really need is cake.  We need an immensely expensive renovation first.  And the new technology would need to be maintained, along with the copiers, phones, HVAC, and current technologies at MHS.  There would need to be a realistic budget for that, too. 

I worked in a school that had a technology called "DreamWriters" that essentially gave every student a word processor.  Fine for the first year.  They began to fall apart the second year, the company had changed hands, and it took an act of god to get them repaired or replaced. 

This served as a cautionary tale for me regarding whizz-bang neat-o technology.  Not so neat-o when all it does is take up space in the classroom.  Prioritize, MHS.

Adrienne is a mom of two boys 4ish and 6ish.  Medford resident since 2000.

Nancy Quinn: I think introducing kids to computers at pre-school age in moderation is appropriate. The PBS Kids website has educational games for this age group – and my 4-year old loves to play them. We reserve her computer time for rainy days and limit it to 30-40 minutes. She is starting Kindergarten in Medford in the Fall and the curriculum includes technology and computer use. I think it is important for them to have the basics down at this age – how to use a mouse, the keyboard and enter key.

I think high school students should have computers issued to them – or at the very least provided at cost. To me, they are equivalent to the World Book encyclopedias of my childhood. Kids can conduct research anywhere using electronic-resources (via their school or public library) or trusted websites. The computer or iPad is just a tool to get to this information. I think it will soon be the norm for kids to be issued laptops, iPads or e-readers in replacement of the classic textbooks. I think to reach that tipping point – the computers have to be made a little more resistant to kids – water (and food) resistant, drop-proof and have a longer battery life.

Nancy has been a Medford resident for 7 years. She has two kids - 4 years old and 2 years old.

Judi McLaughlin: While I can certainly understand the appeal of bringing technology to kids, there need to be certain parameters. 

For high schoolers, I can get behind this idea, as long as it isn't a "give it and forget it" type of distribution.  Teaching high schoolers how to do internet research, find and validate source information, and giving them a background on how to use what is at their disposal in their academic and practical lives is an appropriate implementation.  They already know how to use social media, that's for sure. 

In addition, computer teaching should also be complemented by teaching fundamentals.  I am continually horrified by how many high school students cannot string a sentence together without injecting emoticons or abbreviations, or who can't figure out a restaurant tip without an "app for that."  There needs to be balance of online learning and good oldfashioned book learning.  

In terms of my own children (6 and almost 8), technology has a place, and it is secondary to in-person socializing and play (i.e. going outside, organized sports, and other extracurriculars).  The occasional iPad use, with parental supervision; Leapsters are for longer car rides and air travel. 

As kids age, lengthening the tether on the use of technology as they demonstrate responsible use is the approach we have adopted.  

Judi has lived in Medford for 11 years, and is the mother of two girls, ages 6 and nearly 8.

Tiffany Reevior: While I believe technology is essential in today's society, and becomes more important as kids get older, I think we need to be careful about bringing it into schools.

Very young children should be focusing on gross and fine motor skills in the real world before they start working in a virtual world.  I think probably 3rd or 4th grade is the time to bring computers into the classroom in a very limited way.  By high school, I think all students should have access to computers on a regular basis, though I'm still not convinced they should be using them all day long during classes.

Certainly, kids today will need a strong foundation in technology in order to succeed in careers later in life.  However, I think we tend to worry too much they'll be behind.  Kids pick up technology unbelievably quickly.  When they're young, they need to focus on physical activities like holding a pencil and writing by hand.  They also need to focus on experimentation, observation, social skills, and all kinds of things computers can't teach.  Computers can (and, inevitably, will) come later.

Tiffany is mom to a 6-year-old and has lived in Medford for four years.

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