My grandson discovered the computer when he was 3 years old. Life was never the same at my house. He received a preschool computer game as a gift, and we finally got around to opening it. It was from one of those themed sets that also have a series of cartoon videos, all with same topic — dinosaurs. These were not fierce, scary dinosaurs, but cute, friendly ones that talked about love and basic values.
I put the disk in my CD ROM and held him on my lap, figuring he would play with it for a few minutes and then go back to his blocks, toy cars, and battery operated musical toys. I showed him the computer mouse and how to left-click the mouse button. Picking right up on the idea, he was soon pointing and clicking like a pro. He quickly learned to select the different games and how to click to open them. It was somewhat frustrating as he kept playing the one he liked best instead of my favorite — but I tried not to argue about it.
As it turned out, I was the one that soon became tired. I slipped him off of my numb legs, letting him work on his own while I just supervised. He didn’t need much assistance. He looked so small sitting there in that big chair gazing into the computer screen with his little feet dangling. I had created a 3-year-old nerd. All he wanted to do was play with the computer. What could compete with that?
He would drag virtual puzzle pieces and drop them in the right places. He would catch falling leaves with the cursor and match them to the right shape. He would sort bright colored animals into categories: flying, swimming, insects, and four-legged animals, while being reinforced with music and exciting sound effects. All of the time he was playing, he was also learning colors, letters, shapes, logic and thinking skills. But doesn’t it seem as if a kid should be potty trained before learning to use a computer?
My computer mouse grew warm and sticky from his hot little hand and my monitor screen was soon covered with fingerprints as he pointed to particular accomplishments, or tried to assist the cursor arrow with a grubby finger.
“Can grandma use the computer for a while?” I begged.
“But I have to do MY work!” he explained.
So it was a competition to see who got to use the computer and whether I could check my email before the dinosaurs took over.
We tried to limit his computer time and allow for active play. Kids need to run, ride wheeled vehicles, and bounce balls. I thought maybe he would tire of the computer after a while, but there was always the next level, the next challenge, the next game. With computers, there was always more to learn. I had a wee geek in training pants.
It’s a new world now, a different world than the one I grew up in. When a three-year-old kid was learning computer skills already, what would he be doing at eight – or eighteen? Why was this so shocking to me? Kids master the use of language between the ages of two and three, a very complex skill. They are capable of learning even at a very young age and much of a child’s learning takes place prior to ever starting school.
I wanted him to grow up informed and able to meet the challenges of a technological society. But it seems as if it was only last week when he was a mere baby. With each click of the mouse, we both became a bit older and a bit wiser.
Copyright 2002 Sheila Moss
My grandson turned 18 on his last birthday. He uses a computer at home that he built himself. He will graduate high school soon and was accepted at the University of Southern California, a school that accepts only a small percentage of the applicants. He plans to study computer engineering. He says, “What did you expect, grandma? I’ve been using computers since I was in diapers.” And he has.