Computer Programming for Toddlers

Scratch has been a very popular programming tool used by children between 8 and 13 in many schools. Now, there’s to be a ‘little brother’ aimed at the under-8’s;

Mindshift Article – Programming for Preschoolers

The article raises some intriguing issues related to the ways that the software is to be designed, keeping in mind the assumption that most users will not be able to read at all, let alone fluently. In addition, the design needs to reflect the different cognitive abilities of this very different age group.

The article also tals about some of the very interesting issues around ‘screen time’. Whilst I acknowledge that research may not yet have been able to find screen time guilty for being harmful to young or very young children, I am uncomfortable to concede that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ should apply to non-human inanimate systems!

I’m also doubtful of the arguments put forward by the developers about demystifying IT by introducing it extensively to pre-schoolers. Most of today’s children had relatively little if any exposure at pre-primary ages, but do not seem unduly mystified by IT. The article is quite dismissive of concerns about ‘substitution’ – that children will be playing with computers instead of doing other things. I have very genuine concerns about the replacement of outdoor physically active play and also creative, imagination based ‘free play’. IT design has been inherently driven by the WYSIWYG principle (what you see is what you get), making things very literal. This is a world away from the kind of play that children have traditionally engaged in where physical objects can creatively morph in to a multitude of metaphorical representations.

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5 Responses

  1. I totally agree about the fact that children do not seem “mystified by IT” and I also agree about the fact that children spend a huge amount of time in front of computer screens. However, being exposed to programming concepts at a young age may help increase the number of people taking up Computer Science and related fields as careers – the numbers in the US are extremely low, especially for girls.

    Also, I thought you may be interested my research group – http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~listen/ I work on fluency, specifically on assessment and feedback on children’s oral reading expressiveness.

    • Hi Sunayana,

      A big coincidence to hear from you this evening. Your name came to mind in a recent discussion. Does your work touch upon or have any associations with assistive technology, that we might look at for supporting special needs students?

      PS How are Mum and Dad?

      • As of now, we do not have anything for special needs students, but I think we are interested in looking at something along those lines in the future. I will probably be interning in India this summer and may work on something related, but I am not sure yet.

        Mum and Dad are doing well!

      • If you decide to, please let me know as I’m sure some of our special educators would be pleased to work with you.

  2. I would fully agree with this concern about ‘substitution’. Children are spending more time in front of ‘screens’ year after year, and each year they seem to start at a younger age. I feel we should keep children away from ‘screens’ in general for as long as possible. I’m not sure about the right age to start, but the article uses age 8 as a milestone age – if we go with this, then I’d definitely agree that until age 8 ‘screen time’ should be as close to zero as possible.

    To be successful in the future our children will require competencies such as communication skills, teamwork, listening skills, social interaction, the ability to discuss and debate topics, etc. These one gains through activities such as play, sports, and the arts – not from ‘screen time’. The article’s example of ‘Is it bad for kids to Skype with Grandma?’ is misleading for two reasons: (1) this is not what children are doing 99% of the time that they are in front of a screen and (2) this is the use of technology to support a social interaction – not the use of technology for isolated interaction with a computer, the TV, or a video game.

    I believe that if one was to lock up all of the technology in one’s house for an evening, a weekend, or any period of time, then children will find something else to do. They will most likely play. Or perhaps they will also read for some of this time. They will have time available, and they will find some way to fill this time which doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen – which to me shows that the concern about substitution is valid.

    Finally – as an IT professional – I would fully agree that children can learn programming at a later age, and they don’t need to start learning programming during early childhood – let’s let them fully enjoy their childhood via free play!

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