Time with the children

A mother wrote to me: “I have 4 and 6 years old children. My husband and I are discussing whether we should teach computer programming to them or not? I am afraid that my children may not be able to catch up with friends when they go to school in this technology-driven time? My husband thinks that it is too early. Please advise.”

Answer: “It is never too early or too late to teach children the basics of the computers. Today, computer skills are necessary as reading, writing, and arithmetic. With young children, you could begin to teach them how to use a computer then eventually introduce them on how to code and create software programs. There are many educational software for young children with beautiful pictures, music, and sound effects to encourage children to learn. I have seen some games teaching biology using animal names, or teaching botany by letting children to color pictures of plants and flowers. Children learn fast so you will be surprised on how much they can learn. However, you should not let young children with the computer alone; all interactions must be supervised carefully. There are good and bad websites, but young children do not know how to differentiate them.

As parents, you should spend time with your children by reading books with them, using a computer with them and help them to understand what the computer can be used for, beyond video games. There are several computer programming languages that are easy to learn, especially for children. For example, “Scratch,” “Alice,” “Swift Playground,” etc. There are several websites that teach young children how to write code such as Scratch, Alice, and Swift then they can move up to basic JavaScript , PHP, Python, and Ruby.

Today most parents are busy, but your children need to spend “meaningful time” with you. You should not “Outsource” this time to a computer or computer games, but your children need to learn from you and how you live your life. And in return, they will help you to see who you are too. Children learn about life from their parents first, and parents also learn about themselves from their children too. Children copy everything their parents do and incorporate what they see into their own lives later. The way parents spend time, and teaching children at an early age have a significant impact on what these children will learn in the future. If the parents like to read, the children will learn reading quickly and develop excellent reading skills. If parents spend the time to teach them computer programming, the children will learn to write code in no time.

Most parents have to work, and by the time they go home, they are all tired. But your children also spend their time in kindergarten, elementary school, at friends’ house, with relatives and other activities without you. Whatever time remain in a day is a precious moment between parents and children and you need to nurture it, treasure it because you only have a short time with them before they go to high school and college where they will spend more time with their friends, not you.

Not long ago, I read a book from Anatole France where he wrote: “There are less than a thousand weeks between a child’s birth and college time where your child is leaving you. How much time would you spend with them? When my child is 5 years old, I counted that I have lost 260 weeks already. Time goes fast, and parents never know how much they have missed until your child is gone and having their own life somewhere.”

Since you may have a few hours a day to spend with your children, you should make it a meaningful time, whether you read with them, play a computer game with them, or teach them how to write code, that time is precious.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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