Great sites for toddlers Sharon Cindrich writes technology and parenting columns (www.pluggedinparent.com) and is the author of "E-Parenting: Keeping up with your Tech-Savvy Kids" (Random House, 2007). She recommends the following Web sites for toddlers:
• www.crayola.com: Hands-on fun featuring crayons and your child’s imagination.
• www.lilfingers.com: Activities that encourage reading, drawing and interactive learning.
• www.nickjr.kids.us: Games and printable material featuring Blue, Dora, Little Bill and all your favorite Nick Jr. characters.
• www.noggin.com: Developed by the creators of Nickelodeon, the Web site features games and activities for kids as young as 3.
• www.pbskids.org: Arthur, Clifford, the gang from Sesame Street and all your favorite PBS programs are featured in games, stories and activities.
• www.peepandthebigwideworld.com: Interactive science activities for preschoolers.
• www.starfall.com: A great site for kids just learning to read.
Our family members are amazed when they see my 2-year-old son at the computer. He can sign on, play games and insert and play educational CDs. It’s amazing to watch how skilled he has become at using the mouse, but I have to wonder, is computer time a good idea for a child his age?
Today the home computer has become as ubiquitous as the toaster. On one hand, you might wonder how much computer time, if any, is appropriate? On the other hand, you don’t want your child to be behind the learning curve when he enters preschool or kindergarten.
"A computer is like any other appliance," says technology and parenting expert Sharon Cindrich, author of "E-Parenting: Keeping up with Your Tech-Savvy Kids" (Random House, 2007). "It’s like TV. Kids are going to come across it in the course of their day."
That’s why it’s better for parents to introduce their kids to the computer instead of waiting for them to learn about it in preschool or kindergarten.
"When you allow your child to interact with it at an early age, you have the opportunity to teach them safe habits and good behavior, and lay that foundation early on," Cindrich says. "The other thing is there are a lot of educational advantages. We used to buy toys that blinked and had colored lights and talked to us, and even though we don’t consider the computer a toy, it does all of the things that we used to look for in educational play toys."
Using a computer can help toddlers improve their eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills and learn cause and effect. In addition, playing games can help them learn skills like letter identification, counting, color and shape identification, and matching and sorting.
Wendy Lambert’s two sons both started playing a simple software game when they were about 2. Now Zachary, 6, and Maxwell, 4, both enjoy playing games on the family’s PC.
"We have a lot of educational games for different age ranges," says Lambert, who lives in Ingleside. "There are games like Clifford, Bob the Builder and Blue’s Clues, and they have adjustable skill levels, which is nice." They also play games on www.noggin.org.
"I think it’s definitely helped their matching and sorting skills, and it’s improved their eye-hand coordination," she says. "I do think using the computer has been worthwhile." The boys each have a daily time limit of 25 minutes and they can only use the computer when Wendy or her husband is in the room.
Yet the most advanced software is no match for simply spending time with, playing with and reading to your toddler or preschooler.
"I think many parents believe that they must rush, even before the baby is born, to get all the technological apparatuses ready," says Peggy S. Meszaros, the William E. Lavery professor of human development and director of the Center for Information Technology Impacts on Children, Youth and Families at Virginia Tech. "They fail to realize that they are the most powerful teachers their children have."
Computer time should be balanced with "outdoor activities and face-to-face activities that will help their children’s development intellectually, emotionally and physically," Meszaros says.
And remember that a PC isn’t a babysitter for kids this young. "The parent should be sitting with the preschooler," Meszaros says. "Then you can also engage them in conversation about what they’re doing. That’s a higher level of learning than just ‘point and click.’"
Setting time limits, like Lambert does, prevents young kids from spending too much time moving their mouse around. "Fifteen minutes is long enough for a young child to be at the computer," says Cindrich. "Establish a time boundary early on, whether with a timer or a watch."
Kelly James-Enger lives with her husband and son in Downers Grove, where she has www.sesamestreet.org bookmarked.
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