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Computers Boost Preschool Kids' Intelligence

But Too Much Computer Time Could Hamper Development

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  • 83% of home computers had children's software on their computer.
  • 29% of children used their home computer daily; 44% used it at least weekly
  • 56% of families without a home computer had access to one elsewhere.
  • 10% of those children without home access used that computer daily; 33% used it weekly.

"Many kids took advantage of computers in other settings (like the babysitter's house)," Li tells WebMD. "That was good news."

The children were given several tests to measure their eye-hand coordination, motor skills (like running, jumping, catching) and their IQ. Their "school readiness" was also evaluated: Could they follow directions and understand concepts like big and small, right and left?

Importantly, "we didn't see any problems in eye-hand or motor development," says Li. "We didn't see deteriorating impact of computer use."

The Good News

In fact, it was all good news. Preschoolers with computer access had:

  • Higher skill development test scores -- twice as high
  • IQ scores 12 points higher than kids who didn't use computers
  • Better school readiness scores

Were the children using educational software or just playing games? His study didn't look at that specifically. However, it did show that some computer or electronic game exposure was better than none.

"These kids are very young," Li explains. "They cannot do Excel or Power Point. They must be limited to simple games or simple learning. How the child uses the computer may not be important. But whether they use it is important."

Too Much Computer Time = Bad News

Li didn't examine the parents' role in the computer use scenario. "That could make a huge difference in how frequently kids played on the computer," Li explains. "Some parents leave kids in front of the computer every day, make it into a babysitter, so the parents can do something else. We don't want to encourage that."

Too-frequent use seemed to have some negative effects, Li reports. In his study, children who used the computer less often were better prepared for school. Daily and even weekly use left them less prepared.

In future reports, Li will look at effects of educational software in Head Start classrooms. Each child gets to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day on the computer, he says. The children's social, psychological, and physical development will be tested.

"A lot of people have very strong arguments against computer use by kids -- that it could have a negative social and motivational impact," says Li. "We believe that's true."

Teachers must be careful to limit computer use, Field adds. "If preschools like Head Start start putting too many computers and not allowing enough pretend time -- that's how children learn how to have empathy, learn to be someone else. It develops their creativity and imagination and their social sense. They learn to take turns."


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