A couple months ago I emerged from some (blissful) time shut into my sewing room, and found that Dave had set up his laptop for Nathan. He’d talked about doing this before, so I wasn’t entirely taken by surprise. I was slightly surprised to see that Nathan was watching an online video, featuring short clips of cats. Dave explained that Nathan’s computer skills had increased: he could now navigate through YouTube on his own, clicking on videos that he wanted to watch. And to get the process started, he was getting very good at typing “cats” into the search bar.
“You set our three-year-old loose on YouTube?” I asked him.
Dave said that no, of course he hadn’t. He was there the whole time, for one thing. And Nathan was learning all kinds of valuable skills. Before the day was out, he could make a video full-screen, and then use the escape key to make it small again. Before the day was out he had also learned how to put on a pair of headphones, hastily dug out of the shop. It turns out that three-year-olds don’t necessarily want to watch a wide variety of videos. Ours, at least, was capable of watching the same “funny cats” video twelve times in a row.
I was pretty dubious about this new activity. But after the novelty wore off, Nathan tired of the cat videos. (Airplanes kept his attention for another short while.) He became interested in other activities on the laptop, like typing and drawing. He’s been learning the basic skills of maneuvering around a computer: double-clicking, closing windows, dragging icons, etc. He can find many of the letters on the keyboard.
So there are upsides. Still, I’ve kept a pretty close eye on his laptop use. Despite the amount of TV, computer and video game time that I consumed as a child, I have this idyllic notion in my head that kids should spend most of their time engaging in creative play. Then again, there have been a couple of instances where I’ve actually suggested to Nathan that he might want to go watch a video. Sometimes Nathan’s creative play seems to devolve into “How creatively can I torment my brother?”