International Symposium 1998 TOP

Mr. Sohei Matsuda

The Toyonaka Kindergarten Story
Digital kids of the Heisei era

I wonder what most people think when they hear of small children playing on computers in kindergarten.

One can almost hear the responses: "Why should kindergarten children have to use computers?" "Small children are using computers? It's much too early!" "At kindergarten children should be singing, playing games, and making mud pies!" A computer is the epitome of the artificial. If we really make a mess of things, humans will become slaves to computers. What can they be thinking putting such things in kindergartens as a child's toy?

Many people who think in this way have never touched a computer, and it often seems the case that these "emotional opponents" are opposed to them based only on their own preconceptions. There is still a preconception that a "computer = a square machine like a TV with lots of difficult-looking keys". Computers are now in virtually all of the electronic appliances we use every day: refrigerators, washing machines, vacuums and televisions, and we think nothing of it. We live each day using computers, but only the "square" computer invites such contempt. Why is this the case?

On the other side, there are the "proactive endorsers," who think "Computers have spread this far in society and schools, so we must let children become familiar with them from a very young age!" These people often seem to want to teach everyone everything. There is to know about the image and use of computers. They seem to think that if adults don't teach them, children won't understand anything. On this point, they are at the same level as the "emotional opponents," in that they conceive of computers as being something out of the ordinary.

No one knows how the future will have unfolded for the digital kids of this era -- kids who freely operate computers -- when they come of age. Should we adults, then, with our narrow sense of the image and use of computers, and our meager experience, really be allowed to instill in them our one-sided views?

Among this same "endorser" group, there is the softened opinion of the "skeptical endorsers" which goes something like this: "Computers have only come into our lives in the last ten years or so at most, so there is no way we can tell yet if they are good or not. Thus, their opinion is that we should at least give them a try," or "If they are bad, stop; if they are useful, keep using them." They would be happy if computers in kindergarten are like the Freibel toys or the monolith that leads humanity in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Set off by computers, children have their own adventures and expressions of pleasure, and share this information among themselves. Adults would be better off simply sitting back and watching over them with the smile of affectionate parents.

At two years old, a child can play on a Macintosh, in kindergarten draw computer graphics, and then in grade school, exchange electronic mail with friends from around the world. For children born in the Heisei era (born in or after 1989), having computers in their environment is perfectly natural. It is only to be expected, then, that there will be a difference in the way people interact with people as well as this difference will be computers between those who first touched computers in adulthood and those who use them almost since the time they were born on the other.

The practical research we have done so far was conducted from the position of a "skeptical endorser." For this presentation, I would like to report on this research focusing on the items below.

  • Digital turtle (turtle graphics) and children.
  • Digital drawing and children.
  • Interactive picture books and children.
  • Kindergartens and the Internet.
  • Mothers' networks.

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