Low-tech family dealing with Chromebook for kindergartner

Our 5yo started kindergarten in fall 2022 at a public school, and we were surprised that all students in his grade would be issued a Chromebook. I had asked the school staff how much of their learning would be based on Chromebook and was told that it would only be used for assessments; in fact, parents could opt-out of getting the Chromebook. However, given that we had the choice to have one issued to our child and just put it away for storage until needed (and also, who knows about another lockdown), we chose getting one because we didn't want him to feel left out of what seemed to be a standard equipment issue in this day and age. Lately, my son has been asking to play games on his computer and reports that he sees his peers both talking about playing on their computer and using them during after-school hours. We are deliberately a low-tech family with our children, and I am uncomfortable with introducing devices so early on. So, he has never touched his Chromebook except to bring it to school when asked. 

I am a Gen Xer who didn't have my first flip phone until graduate school. Can parents please shed light to me on any pros (cons welcome, too - maybe I haven't thought of them all) for introducing this kind of device so early on, specifically Chromebook/basic laptop for 5yos? Plus, he has younger siblings, which is another concern of mine. I'm not even broaching smartphones or video games because that is a firm "no" still in our household. I understand some parents make the choice to introduce digital learning to their kids around this time, but we made a conscious decision not to do that. I just don't know if my son is missing out on something and if I'm being too much of a dinosaur. Thanks!

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Your son is not missing out on anything he really needs to develop into an educated citizen.  You should stick to what you're doing.

I have a 9-year-old and 6-year-old, and we've been trying to slowly introduce them to smart phones, tablets, computer games, and everything on the Internet.  But it's very difficult.  Once you introduce them to an addictive substance, it's hard to take it back.  They just want more and more.  My 1st-grade son in particular, I know he would gladly spend every hour of the day playing computer games.  Because it's like a drug:  it stimulates the same rewards center in your brain that makes you crave continued stimulation.

You're better off preventing that addiction from starting in the first place. Your child can learn computer literacy at any point in the future, including when they're an adult.  

Of course, I'm also a Gen Xer.  So my perspective may not be that different from yours.  Still, I urge you to stick to your principles.

You didn't mention what district you are in, but as we recently moved, my kids each attended kindergarten a different district (WCCUSD and WCSD) they are now 7 and 8. I'm probably a similar age as you, also a Gen X parent. We were a very limited screen house when the kids were in preschool, but now they use computers in school for research and presentations. For example, my 7 year old has a tablet at school and they recently did small group research on honey bees and then presented what they learned to the parents. Also, all California standardized tests are on the computer and begin in third grade, if they don't know how to use the computer and type, it makes it harder for them to answer the questions.

The schools use educational software and games, and during the pandemic, would submit their work online (in Kindergarten via a Chromebook). Now that they are in class, they submit assignments in person, often on paper. Some of the software my kids use: Epic (reading), Kodable, Dreambox, Seesaw, Google Classroom, Math Tango, Scratch Jr.. plus the school uses a monitoring app called Securly so I get a weekly report of what my kid searched for at school. For example: this week X looked up "Sea Turtle Habitats."  The teachers have private websites that keep us up to date on what programs and modules the kids are using, so if they want extra practice at home, it's easy. We do let our 8 year old use a kindle as she's now into longer chapter books, but I control which library books are loaded onto it, and it has no browser. My 7 year old still reads only books on paper.

We use parental controls on our devices at home to control which apps they can use, along with time settings, so after the set amount of time the computer is locked. We also don't let them watch TV during the week, and we only watch TV as a family on Sunday afternoons, where we choose something everyone will like. You aren't a dinosaur, but if your kid continues to have no screen time at school, he might have a little struggle compared to the rest of the kids.

I don't think your son is missing out. This will only worsen as he gets older and kids start to get phones and other tech at ages that may not be what you support. I have a 1st grader and she has classmates with phones, who use social media, who know how to use their Chromebook for non-school related things, etc. She also asks for these things and we just discuss why our family has different rules around technology, social media, etc. You can always touch base with the teacher if there are non-testing/non-homework related games/apps that they think are useful. For example, we do let our daughter play Kodable on her school issued Chromebook which is not part of homework but seems to be teaching her some logic and coding skills. 

I can see absolutely no "pros" for a Chromebook at age 5.  What you have already experienced (your son asking to play games and telling you his friends are playing games) will dramatically increase if/when you allow him to start playing computer games himself. Regardless of what you do now the battle will become nearly impossible for you to fight by the time he is 10. So give yourself a little more time while you still can. And give him a few more years of innocence. When he asks to play a computer game: read a book together, paint something, do puzzles, go for a walk. 

In Solidarity,
Refusnik Mom

Just a plug for keeping kids off screens, despite social pressure. Our kids attend a school that is very low on tech so luckily we don't have similar school-related pressures. But our kids (7 and 11) don't have any screens but tv, which they can only watch on weekends and is always a shared experience. They come home and say "so-and-so has an Apple Watch or so-and-so plays this video game...". And for us, it's so much easier just giving them a firm "no, that's not what our family is going to do" rather than trying to give a little and then deal with all the battles. I don't see much upshot to iPads/video games etc at this age, compared to all the downsides of distraction, social media exposure, obessesion, and wasting time. The only difficult part is thinking about connectivity with friends- how I wish everyone still had a home phone. But from what I can see, texting or chatting through games or iPhones can get out of hand fast and doesn't seem to cultivate much connection, so we are trying to figure out ways for them to use a real phone to chat with friends. And music is also hard since so much is streaming based. we've brought in cd and record players, and they can ask Alexa to play music too. Our older kid does use my laptop to write stories, but no internet use. Our kids spend their time at home doing so much art, reading, tinkering, and just terrific imaginative play -- they are so much more creative and productive and communicative with us than they would be if they were staring at an iPad in the evenings. And we are still able to finish work and make dinner since they know how to keep themselves occupied. I don't worry about them being technologically behind- everything is only becoming more intuitive and streamlined, by the time they hop on gadgets (hopefully not for a while still), they will catch up in a half second. I totally get that this is not an option for all families but to us it's actually the path of least resistance. 

Good for you! We do the same. I dread our kid starting school and being introduced to devices (currently under 2yo). There will be plenty of time for them to play with that later. IMHO!

I’ve seen my niece freak out over having devices taken away- she is 5, nearly 6. She asks for movies etc when she could be playing and learning other things, and my sister (the mom) has to have small arguments with her over it. Seems like it’s not worth the hassle. 

Keep doing what you’ve set out to do and don’t worry about what other parents are doing or what kids are saying. I hardly recall feeling “left out” at that age over toys. There will be stronger memories in grade school, so don’t stress much over whether or not you need to give in. I’m sure your child will look back and think you were probably right. 

I grew up without tv. I didn’t have it until I was almost out of high school. It’s the reason I found things I loved having in my life, like painting and hobbies and general interest in the world. 

Good job!

The only pro I can think of is that you can do something else while your kid is busy playing games on the Chromebook.

I've kept screens limited with my kids (though not as much as I wish I could). The oldest got her first chromebook at Longfellow in 6th grade, then we found a more low tech (and in person) school for 7-8 grades. Now she's in public high school, has a chromebook again and doesn't seem to have any trouble navigating the google classrooms. The chromebooks are easier for the teachers because it's easier to automate grading, and keep track of assignments. I haven't noticed they offer any educational value to the kids, other than typing speed, which becomes important if you want to do any work that involves written communications. In the older grades they make the kids read almost all content on their tiny little screens rather than handing out textbooks. So the kids don't have lockers and don't have to keep track of all the schoolbooks or cart them around. If you see value in that.

Some cons I see in other kids who are more exposed to tech are: horrible posture; inability to carry on a conversation that doesn't involving showing someone videos on their phone; and inability to focus or find ways to occupy themselves if a screen isn't available. I've also noticed with my little one (now age 8) that if I let him do movies/games on the computer then for the next few days he is "sooo bored" and constantly asks to do something on the computer. When I take it out of circulation this problem goes away and he finds other ways to entertain himself. 

Other unsolicited advice: Many schools are now very invested in pushing tech on children, for reasons I don't fully understand. (See, e.g. your school giving chromebooks to 5 YOs.) It was SO HARD when my daughter was at Longfellow to keep a low-tech environment while all other kids were constantly on their phones. The kids all leverage what the other kids are supposedly doing to pressure their parents into more devices and more access. The best thing that ever happened to us was moving to a low-tech school, where there were other parents on the same page and more kids who knew how to go outside and entertain themselves without phones. If there is any way you can find a social / school group with like-minded parents it will really help. 

OP here, thanks for your thoughts. We are part of WCCUSD. A fellow parent has told me that her 8yo at the same school does regular assignments on Chromebook. For kindergarten parents, we haven't been given much direction in how to use the Chromebooks at all, and I hope that we would when they start to rely more on the devices for schoolwork. Not just for the activities, but also for security and recommendations for how to structure Chromebook use if this is really going to be a regular part of their work. Thanks for pointing out some of those educational apps.

Since others have mentioned their screen time use, I thought I'd share ours. We allow 30-40 min. TV during weekdays (when I do prep dinner), and then 1-2 hrs on weekends for a movie (I have a 4yo and 5yo). They have no iPads and very rarely get to watch videos on my phone, unless it is a read-along book. We have done some occasional Internet research before for my 5yo for different presentations for school. I have relented to let my parents play smartphone games with them on occasion because there is some of that bonding going on, and at least it's interactive for everyone involved. I am glad to have some parent solidarity in this! It's definitely not easy.

You got great feedback to your thoughtful question.  The only thing I would add - the digital divide is real and that a lot of opportunities for families are delivered through schools, so I hypthosize that some of the thought behind giving a chromebook to a kindergartener is about giving a computer to a family.  Many families only have computers through work and phones at home, if you need to apply for a new job, after a lay off say, having a computer, even a chromebook, at home, could make a difference.