I understand that the EYFS legislation sets learning goals for as young as 22 months and the ability to use a mouse and keyboard by 40 months. My Children’s Montessori nursery does not even own a computer for the children to use. Does this mean that my children will be at a disadvantage when it comes to using computer technology?
This is one of the areas where Montessori practice does indeed differ from that suggested by the EYFS. The thinking for this is based on sound developmental principles that have been a part of our practice for one hundred years but are now being backed up by current research. Of particular relevance here is the fact that the child needs to be engaged in real activities, what Montessori called ‘purposeful activities’ because these are the kind of activities that engage his mind and help him to adapt to the life around him.
For example when the child is allowed to wash up his plate and utensils after his lunch he will learn that if he puts too much washing up liquid in the bowl it is impossible to get rid of the bubbles. He will learn how hard he has to rub to get all the Marmite off the plate and in doing so he will start to be able to control his hands for a real task - he is being prepared to take part in the life going on around him. Now it might be said that when we show the child how to use a computer mouse we are also preparing him to take part in the life going on around him, certainly there are plenty of computers in his life. But there is a crucial difference here - when the child uses a mouse to make a tower appear on the screen he is not seeing the real consequence of his movement - when we tap our fingers this does not really build a tower. The signals being transmitted between the child’s mind and hand are confusing for the young developing brain. At this age the child is making synaptic connections in his brain. These are made in response to the repeated activities that he carries out with his hands.
The idea that tapping his fingers performs such a complex task as building a tower is not helpful to the strengthening of the bond between hand and mind. There is no doubt that children will find the use of computers ‘fun’ and the many toddler programmes that flood daily onto the market are of great appeal to both adults and children - especially when they are accompanied by claims that they will help children to get ‘an early start on learning’ but this is not a good enough reason to allow our children to be exposed to something that is harming their development. World renowned Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman tells us that ‘computer use too early has long term detrimental effects on children’s maths and reading. Early exposure may have long-lasting adverse effects on educational achievement’. He goes on to say that ‘we should keep computers and televisions out of the classrooms and especially not in nurseries at a younger age’.
So then how will these children learn to use computers? There is no doubt that this is a skill they will need in the future. It may seem complacent to say this - but there is plenty of time for them to acquire these skills. If we look at today’s teenagers do we have any doubt that they can use computer technology? Yet did they have a mouse in their hands before they could ride a bike? Children can be taught these skills easily when the time is right - when they have the kind of mind that understands easily what it means to use a computer and what it is used for - and its not to build the Pink Tower!