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Learning, Unplugged

Q. My child's school doesn't have a computer in every classroom. Should I be concerned?


A. Absolutely not, says Todd Oppenheimer, author of The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved. It would actually be more worrisome if school-age kids spent too much time on computers -- in the classroom or at home. "It's critical for children to have a full range of sensory experiences," he says. That means kids should have ample time to do things you probably remember from your early school days, like play with water, clay, sand, and blocks; paint; listen to music; and be read to.

Of course, computers are a big part of our culture, so it's fine if they're used as part of a lesson. But they're no replacement for old-fashioned learning: If kids are just bouncing around from site to site, or dragging and dropping premade drawings, they might not be learning to concentrate and create.

The exception? Kids with severe learning disabilities, who can derive great benefits from a computer's repetition and structured learning.

As long as your child has some exposure to computers over the next few years, he'll be able to make his way in the tech-driven future just fine. What's more important, say experts, is that he learn to problem-solve and stretch his imagination, and those kinds of skills don't require a certain number of computers per school.

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