When computers spin out images, a child’s mind stops working.

A delightful concocted video shows how medieval readers unused to the idea of books might have received their arrival. An adult learner/reader is waiting for his tutor to come along and show him how to handle a book: how to position it, open it, turn page upon page, go back to the first or second page if the reader wants to revisit and lastly how to close the book.

“How do I open it again?” shrieks the learner holding the book wrong side up when the ‘tutor’ closes the book and stands up to go.

“L-i-i-ke, this!” says the teacher turning the book the right way up and opening the book to the first page again. “Remember to keep it firmly closed when you finish.”

That video would remind every one of us of our first encounters with the PC and Kindle. But if you watch how speedily children pick up technology of any kind you would believe that love of it is hard-wired into us. The iPad and the PC give us a grand illusion: that by being netted into a neutral body of information we are in control of a world of knowledge. Now that might be partially true but my concern is the learning experience. How do children handle this world of information, turn it into knowledge, spend time thinking about it and assimilating it?

I’m not ignoring the benefits. For a child (under seven) who can use an iPad or a laptop, there are not many things that can outstrip a computer; but caretakers everywhere must understand that if young children are allowed free access to computers, they are missing the opportunity to develop the personal, social and emotional skills they will need to function effectively right through life.

As a young child’s attention naturally jumps from one thing to another, and some forms of electronic media may prolong this immaturity, the developmental milestones of the human brain between the ages of six and seven are best spent in physically and linguistically enriching environments rather than with images produced in the abstract by the computer. Exciting, barely understood graphics and special effects, coupled with the temptation to click impulsively, encourage stimulus-bound behaviour which, in turn, will surely contribute to attention problems later in life.

Many teachers are worried that computers interfere with the student’s focus on language skills and imaginative thought processes; they also fear that internal negotiation is affected. In fact, in a study of child care, researchers found that children’s intelligence, academic success, and emotional stability were determined primarily by the personal and language interactions they had with adults and not by the time spent on computers. All experts are worried about computers taking precedence over social and language-related experiences. Though there are very interesting things one can do with computers, the one-on-one presence of an adult is important because children need a mentor to discuss, ask questions, and explain.

Then there is the question of handwriting! Is shifting to the keyboard really a great step? A recent article by Maria Konnikova says that “the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep. Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.”

Added to this is the finding that children whose learning is largely from computers begin to exhibit impatience and a lack of interest in anything or anyone but themselves. Children need lots of practice to integrate their senses through different kinds of play experiences. They must be allowed to manage their own minds and not have them controlled by an unseen mind elsewhere which doesn’t care what happens to them. When computers spin out images, the child’s mind stops working.

Is this what we want?

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