Why Not Computers?
Computers are everywhere. They improve our spelling, reach out to our co-workers, record our work, and expand our knowledge. New educational software is available almost daily for our children. Claims are made that this new software will increase the intellectual and academic abilities of our children far beyond their present levels. This is conventional wisdom. It bears questioning.
In the last several thousand years, human brains have continued to develop in approximately the same way. In utero an infant recognizes sound. Around the age of 3 months, an infant can see as completely as he ever will. By the age of 15 months, she can speak about 20 words or phrases. During the period of 3 to 6 years old, the child absorbs incredible amounts of information in a concrete way, understanding things literally as they are explored. The senses are the input for this information, and the child learns most by touching, seeing, hearing, and manipulating as many things as possible. A toddler will stack pans in and out, turning them upside down to hear how they sound when banged with a spoon. The 3-year-old will play for hours with sand and water. The 4- or 5-year-old will observe the work adults do and clamor to be taught the secret of deciphering words on a page and then how to write those words herself. Most children under the age of 6 have a hard time conceptualizing fantasy of any kind, including really understanding next week or yesterday.
Then around the age of 6, the brain physically changes, enlarging at a much faster rate than it has been. The child begins to comprehend concepts not experienced. This is when computerized learning becomes most effective and fun. The child physically can work a computer and intellectually can comprehend what is being taught, especially when there is a good base of academics. The software that offers creative thinking can help a child develop wonderful learning patterns. There’s an incredible array of encyclopedic software that can expand a child’s repertoire of knowledge, especially when the child has a rich basis of understanding concretely at the preschool level.
For the vast majority of children, computers are a delightful tool about the time they enter elementary school. Before that age, computers are something of a cause-and-effect toy. Better to have some great blocks and wonderful art material. Better yet to have a dedicated parent/teacher team who guides the child expertly toward learning about the exciting world we live in.
The Montessori position on human sexuality is that it is indelibly connected with the implicit love of the parent, a love that is programmed by nature. Montessori writes, “The child is born amidst love, his very origin is by love, and once born he is surrounded by the love of the mother and father. This love which parents make is natural; it makes joy. . . it does not feel sacrificial.” Thus the presentation of “sex education” is really an education for love and not merely an exercise in avoiding pregnancy out-of-wedlock. As educators and parents, however, we can’t pretend that the highly visible influences in our society of drugs and sex are not affecting our little ones. What we do is begin early with first defining our standards and then reinforcing them openly and consistently. At the school, we call all body parts by their correct names and we teach appropriate privacy. In your home you can:
- Talk with your spouse about your attitudes toward romance, extra-marital sex, and pornography.
- Be openly affectionate with your spouse and your children. Model your beliefs about romance and intimacy.
- Think through what is age appropriate for your child. Correct terminology is always appropriate. Listen to your child’s questions and respond with the sense of wonder this topic deserves.
- Don’t “drop the subject” for the next five years and think everything is okay. We’re hearing from young people that their parents don’t get involved enough early enough.
- Be proactive on what your family’s standards are about the opposite sex, about modesty, about chastity, and about what love is.
If a child witnesses from early childhood the respect and compatibility of his parents, their tenderness, their affection, these will be the most significant examples of serious and beautiful relations between a man and woman.
The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces as the behavior it prevents. Turning on the television set can turn off the process that transforms the child into the adult he is to become. Children who watch television not only have significantly reduced levels of creativity, but they also have significantly reduced persistence at problem solving, greater sex-role stereotyping, and a dramatic increase in aggressive verbal and physical behavior.
Our society is increasingly alliterate, that is, we know how to read but we chose to get our information from television. That is disturbing because learning language and “inner speech” feed the development of the brain’s frontal area. (The back of the brain is the ‘library’ and the front part is the planning and executive department.) Because our children are constantly being stimulated from outside, they have little time to reflect and talk to themselves inside their heads. TV viewing robs children of the ability to make their own mental pictures - the kind of visual imagery that helps in solving math and science problems.
Researchers have found that children watch television very differently from adults. Their different goals, life experiences, and assumptions markedly influence how children respond to what they see. While adults willingly suspend their disbelief while watching a television program, children often have no disbelief to suspend. Parents use television for entertainment, but children use it to seek out information about their world. Until children reach grade school, many children can’t tell the difference between the program and the commercials. They don’t understand motives behind the messages promoting products. Also, preschoolers and toddlers tend to believe everything adults tell them. They don’t have the personal experience and cognitive development to allow them to question the accuracy of what they see. Even older children routinely accept information they receive from television without questioning it.
As products of the video culture, today we have to be particularly on guard to what television is doing to our children. We unconsciously accept television as a pervasive part of our lives. Analyze for a minute the messages on the TV in your house. Hear the sexual innuendoes, “put downs”, biased remarks, verbal or physical acts of violence, and the message that if you don’t feel good, take a drug. Notice how many hours your children are sitting still while you are thankful that they are quiet. Take action to promote the ability to carry on a conversation, to occupy yourself with meaningful activities, to promote courtesy, integrity, romance, strength, intelligence, and accomplishment personally, not vicariously through the small screen.
Hysterics at the moment of separation can make us want to throw in the towel over the whole career thing. Infants from about 8 to 15 months go through a real developmental stage when they begin to realize that their body is not connected to mother’s. Stay-at-home moms have the same problems we do when their children are at that stage. Past that stage, we can be very philosophical about how good preschool is for children, and about how children are really very proud of parents’ careers. But what can you really do when separation is agonizing? Try these hints:
- Have a very regular morning routine on workdays. Get everything ready the night before and walk into the school within a few minutes of the same time every day. This gives your child the security of knowing what to expect every day.
- Reassure your child that you will be back after nap, at 5:30, or for ballet lesson. Make sure your child understands that you will never ever not come for her.
- Always say goodbye. Slipping out makes your child uneasy that you might disappear if he’s not watching you constantly.
- Don’t linger once you have said goodbye. GO! Your child learns that tears, tantrums, or clinging makes a difference, and the next goodbye is even more difficult.
- Return on as regular a schedule as possible. Focus only on your child for the first moments when you arrive with a warm hug and greeting. If you are going through a difficult separation time, remind your child of how punctually you returned.
- Talk with him about his day. Get some news about his day from our staff as conversation starters. Maybe later, share a few things about your workday.
- If your child bursts into tears at the sight of you, allow that. She’s been really good all day and has been holding up well. You are her safe place and she can release all that tension with you. Talk with our staff about how the day went and perhaps linger for a few minutes to visit gently with the other children. This reassures your child that this is a good place and one in which you both can feel comfortable.
We all go through times of stress. If goodbye blues are wearing you down, relieve stress somewhere else. Maybe you could simplify your bedtime routine by stretching it out and going at a more leisurely pace. Maybe have a nice milk drink and cuddle for a lovely story. It’s a way to refuel for the new day that’s coming.
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