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Time to Change the Conversation from Consuming to Creating

At a recent family gathering, my father-in-law delighted in the accomplishments of his four year old granddaughter who effortlessly navigated her mother's iPad. He was awed by the ease with which she used the technology and, on the surface, who could blame him.

My niece is not alone. Technology has become a mainstay in the lives of most American children. What began as an infatuation with computer games has grown into a multi-media explosion, affecting even the youngest children long before they can read or write.

According to a recent report Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America issued by A Common Sense Media Research Study - Fall 2011: "Computer use is pervasive among very young children, with half (53%) of all 2 to 4 year olds having ever used a computer, and nine out of ten (90%) 5 to 8 year olds having done so. For many of these children, computer use is a regular occurrence: 22% of 5 to 8 year-olds use a computer at least once a day, and another 46% use it at least once a week."

What does this obsession with using technology mean? Is it something to be envied, as evidenced by my father-in-law's pride in his granddaughter's dexterity, or should parents, grandparents and educators encourage, even very young children, to become creators, not just users, of technology? While on the surface, computer usage may be viewed as a necessity, I would argue that in today's techno savvy world, we should be celebrating the creative energies of our children, not extolling the virtues of using media that has been pre-selected and created merely to sell merchandise.

Elementary students are no longer too young or too inexperienced to understand rudimentary computer science concepts. The numbers speak for themselves. By the time they are 8 years old, 60% of children have used handheld games, 81% have played console games, and 90% have used a computer.

I expose my students to computer programming in kindergarten. While they are eager to play games and paint picutres on the computer, my students true successes occur when they effectively create their first computer program.

So maybe now is the time to change the conversation, from exploring how much time children spend consuming media to examing ways to enhance the quality of their experiences. According the 2011 report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop entitled Always Connected: the New Digital Media Habits of Young Children: "the challenge going forward is in establishing new models of using technology in effective, developmentally appropriate ways with young children."

The time is ripe for change, and computer science is no longer the sole domain of adults. In the future, success will hinge not on how much our students know, but on their ability to think and act creatively. So why not help our children and our future by believing in them and by believing in their ability to learn. You are never too young to learn computer programming.

Patrice Gans
CSTA K-8 Representative


I want more info! I agree with the concept that younger kids should be "creating" i.e. programming, too, and not just using technology. But what are you having your kindergarteners *do*?? It seems so young to do programming; I see kindergarteners using computers every day and some of them have trouble with even basic UI issues. Don't leave me hanging, I want to know how they can program! ;)

Hi Alex,
I have had a lot of success exposing my students to basic programming concepts using the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives Ladybug Leaf and Ladybug Mazes applications. A detailed explanation of my success will be outlined in the March issue of The Voice. You can always contact me directly for more information. Thank you so much for your interest. There really is nothing like working with young children and helping them learn the basics of computer programming.

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