Early Childhood Educators Advise Parents to Limit Television and Computer Access for Preschoolers


Early learning

As educational experts across the United States continue to emphasize the positive educational gains available to children who participate in early learning programs, parents may wonder if they can keep pace with their little learners at home. Children who were born after 1990 remain something of an experimental generational cohort: they were the first American children to grow up with video games, computers, cell phones, texting, the internet, and they benefited from the widespread institution of early learning programs in many states.

Nowadays, it is commonplace for children to attend preschool education programs, but in the 1970s, children would typically stay home with their mother — or with another relative — until they started kindergarten. Only about 20% of all children under the age of five attended a local pre-kindergarten program, and those figures stayed relatively steady until the late 1990s, by which time fully half of all young learners were enrolled in early learning programs. Experts cite an increase in mothers who work outside the home, and are quick to praise the educational benefits of preschool education.

A quality preschool program has very little in common with daycare or babysitting: in the last few decades there has been extensive research by parents and educators into the subject of how children learn best, and early learning programs are much more comprehensive and effective than they have ever been. Children’s television programming has also shifted more strongly toward educational content, and there are now television channels that are dedicated to serving the educational, social, and emotional needs of children under the age of five.

Early learning programs and children’s cartoon networks are dedicated to inspiring children to learn about the world around them: by the age of five, an effective learning program can triple a young learner’s vocabulary and help them to formulate more complex spoken language. Once a child is ready to learn to read, they are already comfortable with the language and should pick up new concepts more rapidly. Children who are being raised in a bilingual environment typically show a small lag in linguistic development before the age of five due to the fact that they have to internalize twice as many vocabulary words as their monolingual peers.

In the 1970s, educational experts were extremely concerned about the potentially negative impact of television on developing minds, and while experts are still divided about the pros and cons of non-educational television programs, there is substantial evidence available to indicate that toddlers can learn the alphabet from children’s television shows, along with reasoning skills and — to a surprising extent — cues for healthy social development and interaction with peer groups.

Early learning centers can reinforce shared social values in a group context: sharing, listening, and table manners, for example. But as parents from the television generation struggle to understand the internet generation, it is only natural that they would wonder about the long-term effects of exposure to computers. Are video games safe for children to play? Should I allow my child to read comic books? To use my tablet? To use my cell phone. In the absence of long-term studies on the effects of the internet on children’s mental and socio-cultural development, experts recommend limiting “screen time” to less than one hour per day for children younger than five. Comic books, studies have shown, can help reluctant readers to integrate new information.

The great news about early learning programs is that they seem to be working: communities consistently report a positive ROI on the money they spend on preschool programming, after school enrichment, and after school activity centers for children. Children who receive preschool educational opportunities outperform their peers scholastically and often soar ahead of grade school teachers’ teaching plans. Although there is much more work to be done in order to meet the educational needs of gifted children, experienced and dedicated educators continue to incorporate innovative, adaptive teaching methods into public school classrooms across the United States.

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