Computers in preschool are not a good use of class time. Young children are much better served with activities that spark their imaginations, tap into their curiosities, and get them interacting with one another. What a shame it is for preschoolers to engage in a virtual world when the real one around them is filled with blocks, puppets, puzzles, play-dough, and paint! Preschoolers are wired to be active learners--discovering through movement, through their senses, through their curiosity, through play, and through hands-on materials. For these reasons, computers in preschool are not considered within the realm of “developmentally appropriate practices” by the vast majority of pediatricians and scholars in early childhood education.
Computers in preschool are a red flag, warning moms and dads that the director is unfamiliar with the latest findings on kids and screens. According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, American children and teens are spending more than seven and a half hours per day on screens (computers, TV's, and smartphones) and that amount is increasing. While this report didn't include preschoolers (just kids 8-18), it's staggering evidence that our country's problem is too much screen time for youngsters, not too little.
Sadly, preschoolers get hooked on technology, and their addiction can lead to major health issues as they mature. These include obesity, depression, anxiety, narcissism, and suicide. While it may look cute and precocious when a 3-year-old uses daddy's smartphone, it's anything but adorable when a 13-year-old becomes socially isolated, earns poor grades, gets bullied online, can't communicate effectively, and doesn't experience empathy.
Unfortunately, too many ill-informed parents get impressed by computers in preschool and think early exposure is beneficial. They foolishly brag that their preschoolers are “smart” because they're more adept with technology than some adults. This, however, is not an indication of true intelligence but just illustrates kids' fearlessness with devices. Real intelligence comes from real-world experiences, not virtual ones.
It infuriates me when parents of preschoolers recite the cliché “earlier is better,” knowing it's not true but wanting to relieve their guilt about letting their little ones use screens. According to the American Association of Pediatricians, children 2-5 should have only one hour of “high-quality programming” in front of screens per day. However, anyone with a lick of common sense knows it's highly unlikely parents are adhering to this guideline. Many of us have had the experience of being with our families during the holidays and seeing kids get on their devices. Most moms and dads have no idea what they're watching but are just glad they're busy, quiet, and safe. Before parents realize it, their children have racked up 3-4 hours watching screens!
Computers in preschool give parents the wrong message about young children and technology. Preschool directors and teachers have an obligation to inform parents about appropriate practices for this age group and warn them against screen time. There shouldn't be computers in preschools any more than there should be TVs.