The controversy surrounding computer use, and when it is developmentally appropriate to expose the child to the world of technology, seems to continue to dominate the education field and the minds of many questioning parents.
Montessori recognized that the young child needs to “manipulate objects of three-dimensional form” to conceptualize his world. These concrete experiences must take place before the age of 6 or 7 for the child to develop casual reasoning. Because the computer is a two-dimensional learning experience, its ability to assist the young child in their development is limited.
In addition to its limitation regarding concrete experiences, computer use also detracts from early movement experiences in the child’s environment. “The child needs movement to grow and develop.” (Montessori) When we stifle the child’s movement, we literally stifle their development. Children need lots of time to exercise their body, which also aids healthy brain development.
Finally, children who spend too much time in front of a computer are losing out on valuable time connecting with the people in their environment. “The keys to successful brain development are emotional and language interactions with people.” (Healy, 1999) Language is one of the most powerful ingredients in brain development. Computer time can interfere with face to face interactions with supportive peers, siblings, friends and adults who promote strong language skills.
So what is a developmentally appropriate time for the child to be exposed to the computer? In her book, Failure to Connect: How Computer’s Affect Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It, Jane Healy (PhD) states that it is her view that at age 7 some computer time may be beneficial if it is combined with concrete, manipulative activities. She also adds that Howard Gardner, Harvard University expert on “Multiple Intelligence”, has expressed his belief that waiting until age 9 or 10 would not hinder a child in any way.
It is the Montessori approach to education that also believes that with the computer, earlier is not necessarily better, and that concrete experiences involving especially the hand are essential for aiding the child’s growth and development. Dr. Healy’s careful observations of children’s interactions with computers and recommendations for their use, provides credence to the Montessori approach and great reassurance to teachers, parents, and other supporters of healthy child development.
“The child develops himself by means of his hands, using them as instruments of human intelligence” Maria Montessori