A Captive Audience
Many educators consider 2 to be the ideal age to introduce computers, primarily because most toddlers by this time have the attention span and the hand-eye coordination required to move the mouse and follow the arrow on-screen. Most 2-year-olds are enchanted with the brightly colored images and enjoy making them change by clicking the mouse. At this age, children can usually grasp the concepts presented on beginner computer programs. Studies have shown that such programs can help toddlers learn shapes, colors, letters, and numbers, says Ellen Wolock, managing editor of Children's Software Review, a publication that covers children's interactive media. However, Wolock warns parents against replacing traditional learning materials with computers. "They should be used to supplement, not replace, traditional learning toys like blocks, sandboxes, and crayons."
Computers can also teach the relationship between cause and effect, notes Vicki Folds, Ed.D., vice president of Tutor Time, a Boca Raton, Florida-based company that owns and franchises child-care centers. "If the students push something on the keyboard, something happens on-screen," Dr. Folds says. Tutor Time's schools have been using computers in their curriculum for children ages 2 and up for the past decade.
Pamela Uncles introduced her daughter, Tara, to the computer shortly after her second birthday, with a program called Dr. Seuss Preschool. "She was transfixed," recalls Uncles, an educator in Reston, Virginia. "It helps her with her vocabulary."
Jill Burg, of Hartsdale, New York, echoes those sentiments. After she started her 2-year-old daughter, Rachel, on the computer, she saw a marked improvement in the girl's vocabulary and hand-eye coordination. Moreover, when Rachel wanted to learn about caterpillars, her mom found a Website that would let the two of them watch one instantly transform into a butterfly.