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Can Our Children Learn Without Computers? Revisiting Unplugged Learning

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

Child in green field holding binoculars and exploring surroundings

Our dependence on electronics is impressive. Do we really think the solution to all academic problems is online?

Call me crazy, but I don't think that learning should depend 100% on screens especially in the early school years (K-3). There, I said it. Children not only depend on senses to learn, but the more they interact physically with their environment, the better they learn.

In an ideal world, they would be spending the majority of their time outdoors, guided by their curiosity and imagination. Their indoor time would be spent learning from others, working on projects, and writing for a variety of purposes. Social time would be all the time, both indoors and outdoors. But we don't live in an ideal world.

The next best thing is school. Children can interact with each other, walk around, and work on projects that hopefully satisfy their curiosity. They can also play outside. It is a big step down from the ideal scenario, but it is what we grew to accept as the norm.

Think of it this way, as a species our bodies are optimized for interacting with nature to provide our basic needs like hunting and gathering. What we accept as the norm is go grocery shopping and use gyms - if even - to exercise.

Is this what our bodies are built for?


Does it do the job?


What is not so debatable is that the healthier we eat and the more time we spend exercising outside, the healthier and happier we tend to be.

For young children, spending time outside following their own curiosity and learning by doing is the healthiest way to learn. School would be the equivalent of supermarket shopping. It does the job with mixed results. 100% screen based is like taking a child to a candy store. They love it, they will eat candy all day if you let them, and end up with no real nutrition and a lot of disease.

This year is crazy. To make sure everyone stays safe, we have to depend on electronics more than usual. This change is developmentally and emotionally difficult for young children. Schools are very limited for safety reasons, that is if they are even open. There will be many days where your child's learning curiosity will not be met. They may be happy now to be at the "candy store" of learning, but we know better as adults. We understand that the result is a child with a lot of frustration and bottled energy.

Solution: Balance their learning diet.

Take children outside and let them run freely if you can. Give them opportunities to explore, interact, engage, and enjoy their learning. The more unstructured outdoor time you can give them, the more balanced their learning experience will be, especially in a year like this one.


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