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Computer makers designing, selling to kids

January 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Forget Web-surfing adults and teens. Even little kids want a crack at the computer and computer companies are listening by designing technology for the youngest techies. Here's how these new computers are different from regular PCs.Who says a 4-, 5- or 6-year-old can't be computer savvy? They just need their own computer. But how young is too young to introduce your kids to the latest technology? We look at the newest PCs and talk to a childhood development expert.

Six-year-old Kellen Hage loves to play around. But his favorite toy can't be found in a toy box. That's because it's his very own computer.

"I can play games, I can chat with my mom and dad, my sister, my two brothers," said Kellen.

When he was just three, his mother Ellen bought him his first personal computer to keep him connected.

"I thought it would be essential to the learning process of learning ABCs, his numbers, shapes, and colors in a fun, fun kind of way," said Ellen.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, Ellen is part of a growing trend: Parents introducing their tots to technology.

"Because technology is used in schools and certainly in the workplace, parents recognize that there is value in introducing children at an early age," said Tim Herbert, Consumer Electronics Assoc.

That's why it's no surprise you can now find laptops, desktops, and other related gear designed with younger kids in mind, including the XO laptop, Digital Dimensions Inc., and the Easy Link Internet Launch Pad by Fisher-Price. And at a price that's nice. Kid-friendly computers cost anywhere from under $100 to just under $600.

"Oftentimes they're more durable because, let's face it, kids are going to drop products. Oftentimes they are in appealing colors," said Herbert.

Some models feature things like big, bold icons and come pre-loaded with educational software. Others use special programs that make Web browsing and word processing easier to understand.

But if you're hoping to use the technology to teach toddlers, the kid-friendly machines don't "compute" with everyone.

Dr. Michael Rich is with the Center on Media and Child Health, and says studies show that children under 2-and-a-half are incapable of learning anything of value from a screen.

"Even if they are old enough to perceive what most of this material is, there's not a lot of evidence that that is retained more than short term," said Dr. Rich.

Dr. Rich also says computers can't deliver three key things for brain development.

"And that is: Interaction with other human beings, manipulating the physical environment, and open-ended problem solving," said Dr. Rich.

"I think that it depends on the child and whether or not they're ready to be on the computer and I think that's an individual parent choice," said Ellen Hage.

Still wondering just how popular the kid-friendly computers really are? More than 3.7 million units priced between $200?$500 were sold in the third quarter of 2007 alone. That's a jump of 84 percent over the same period the year before.


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