Booting Up: Using the Computer as a Learning Tool

Learn how to use the computer as a learning tool for your preschooler.

If you haven't introduced your child to the computer, you really should this year. It doesn't matter if you don't know RAM from ROM. You don't need to know much about computers yourself to use most children's software. So even if you're a complete idiot where computers are concerned, you can still get your child started so that she won't be. (In fact, before long, she'll probably be teaching you a thing or two.)

Of course, computers (like television) should never be used as a substitute for reading or hands-on science experiments, for art projects, for field trips to museums, zoos, or for time spent with you. But computers can be very useful, versatile, and entertaining learning tools, even for preschoolers. Quality software programs can supplement and even enhance your child's learning in a wide variety of areas.

Good software for preschoolers can help your child build such basic academic skills as:

  • counting;
  • addition and subtraction;
  • telling time;
  • letter recognition; and
  • the association of sounds with letters.

In addition, the computer can bring worlds of knowledge into your home. It can introduce your child to various principles of music, art, and design. Children's design programs will allow your child to explore her creativity, exercise her imagination, and create her own works of art—with no messy cleanup required on your part. Besides, playing on the computer is a fun and educational way to spend your time together on a rainy afternoon.


Limiting the amount of time your child spends on the computer at a single sitting helps to maintain her interest. Your preschooler will probably have the most fun and get the most out of a computer program if you limit sessions to 20 minutes or half an hour. With most programs, this will be plenty of time for your child to complete one or two learning activities.

Computer time with your preschooler is time that you spend with her. Although the software box may indicate that your child can run the program herself, don't believe it. She will almost definitely need your help. If your child is under the age of four, she may lack some of the motor coordination needed to use the mouse with any degree of accuracy. In addition, since most preschoolers can't yet read, your child may need help reading and following written instructions, no matter how simple they are. Finally, because her attention may wander, your preschooler may need your help remembering exactly where she is in a particular program.

Fortunately, the best children's computer programs are not only fun for your child to use, but at least somewhat entertaining for adults, too. So both of you can have fun using the computer together.

The computer has become so much a part of our everyday lives (and shows promise of having an even greater role in the future) that every child will benefit from learning how to use computers. Virtually every school and many preschools now have computers available for student use. So it will help if your child has at least some familiarity with computers by the time she enters school.

So don't force your child to hitchhike on the information superhighway. Give her a ride yourself.