November 30, 2008 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Is 5 years old too young for an OLPC?

A family member is putting forward the idea of getting my nephew an OLPC for Christmas. The argument for is that it's educational, charitable and there are activities like painting and making music that will engage the child. The argument against is that it's expensive and probably over his head at this point, where he is just learning to read and write.

I can't find any clear age guidelines, but I see mentions that they might be used by children as young as 5 or 6. Do these guidelines exist or does anyone have anecdotes of a 5 year old using an OLPC?
posted by revgeorge to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not in the least. Kids are incredible learner of technology.
posted by Spurious at 1:57 PM on November 30, 2008

I know 2 kids, 4 and 5, who use their parent's PC occasionally, using very simple apps that basically just reward the kids with sound and colours for typing or using the mouse. They seem to have fun, particularly when they see something or some character on the computer the recognize from TV or books.

Considering that your nephew will learn and become familiar with computers and use them for his entire life... I don't think it matters either way. He'll probably get some entertainment and education out of it over time, but I'm having trouble seeing the idea as really valuable, just kinda cool.

I had just turned six when I typed, by myself, a 3-page short story (About a superhero potato, of course) on my dad's office's type-writer. I may have been a little precocious, but I still think a 5-year-old will figure out pretty quick how to do something fun or creative with a computer. Which is not to say the kid needs the opportunity.
posted by chudmonkey at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2008

Get him a netbook MSI's Wind or the EEEPC. $349-$399 and he'll have a major head start on other kids his age. I was using a Commodore 64 by the time I was 3-4, there were aspects that were definitely over my head, but it was a great educational experience and a major self-confidence booster in my second-grade technology class.
posted by aleahey at 2:09 PM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Some friends bought one for their 3-year-old. She's not using the command-line or anything, but she seems to enjoy it quite a bit. There's probably some kind of educational value. The OLPC seems durable enough to last a couple years, anyway, though there wouldn't be much data about the long-term reliability yet.

Also, an unintended benefit is that she pretty much leaves her parents' laptops alone now.

And, honestly, that relationship with the computer, where it's an expensive device used by someone who can barely scratch the surface of its capabilities? Let's just say it sounds familiar.
posted by box at 2:10 PM on November 30, 2008

I don't have any specific OLPC examples, but I had a girlfriend whose 5-year-old nephew was able to navigate the Disney website himself to play the flash games on a normal laptop. Also, my father is a child psychologist, and he had me playing those educational Reader Rabbit games as young as 4. I remember them being really fun, and I think I learned from them.
posted by nel at 2:14 PM on November 30, 2008

Data point: My son just turned 5. He navigates lego.com and pbskids.org without any trouble and often steals my chat window so he can "type to Daddy" when my husband's on chat at work. When faced with a question he can't answer, he says "Let's Google it." Heck, he often says "Don't steal the internet!" if he has to go pee while he's using the computer (that is, on YouTube watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons). Occasionally he whispers to one of us "Can you please shove [insert mama/daddy here] off the internet?"

His use of the computer has not only made him mouse-proficient and conversant with a number of computer terms and sites but has also increased his self-reliance and curiosity.

Part of the original idea behind the OLPC is to let kids get their hands on this thing and see what they can do with it. It's not about being able to use everything about this gadget; it's about a child discovering and inventing possibilities in the space that seems over his head--for the moment.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:41 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

My dad claims I taught myself to use Windows (then 3.0) when I was 4. I think your nephew will be fine.

The second question is "do you have any personal objections to getting your kid a computer instead of a more traditional toy?", and that's one you have to deal with yourself.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 2:49 PM on November 30, 2008

I started using the computer when I was 2 or 3. Your 5-year-old should be fine.
posted by divabat at 2:51 PM on November 30, 2008

My daughter (now 7) has had an XO since last year. The biggest problem is that getting Flash to work is problematic if not impossible, and so much of what she wants to do online revolves around Flash. I'd second a cheap netbook.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:57 PM on November 30, 2008

Get him a netbook MSI's Wind or the EEEPC. $349-$399 and he'll have a major head start on other kids his age.

I'm on my Asus EeePC right now. They're great! I agree with the cheap laptop idea. You can always buy educational games and install them for him.
posted by nel at 3:35 PM on November 30, 2008

There are plenty of activities in GCompris that are appropriate for a 5 year old.
posted by PueExMachina at 4:04 PM on November 30, 2008

I have an old Mac G4 sitting around; when my 3 year old started expressing an interest in what I was doing on the computer I wiped the hard drive and set it up with a browser and some links to sites suggested here (and a few other things). Now she loves it and my wife is amazed at how well she can navigate to the sites she wants (yesterday Mrs. TedW expressed concern that our daughter is going to start buying stocks or something if I don't watch her more closely). So I would say yes, go for it.
posted by TedW at 4:27 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: My six-year-old has used the family OLPC (starting last Christmas when he was 5), and there are a few games and other applications (I mean "activities") that he enjoys. But he's often disappointed that it doesn't do Flash (I think I need to confer with Rock Steady about that) and that it's generally slower and less responsive than mom and dad's Mac laptops. He's not a particularly independent reader or typer yet, and that might make a difference. Until now, I have had to set him up with each activity, but I'm thinking that at this point, he might be ready for a broader explanation of how to launch, switch, and quit activities.

That said, the newest update to the Sugar interface-which I did earlier this week--seems to make the whole thing a bit easier to use and less squirrely. He had been frustrated before with a trackpad that was difficult to control and an overall slow user experience, but those things may be much better now. The hardware seems fairly indestructible and it's fun for grownups, too. Now if I could just get Ubuntu installed on this darn SD card...
posted by bevedog at 4:37 PM on November 30, 2008

I say the charitable aspect of the OLPC gives it an edge over other netbooks. Plus, it was designed with kids in mind. I say, go for it! As your kid gets older, if they want to learn more about computers, it sounds like the OS on the OLPC is ideal for that--they can even get into programming eventually.

If you want to look into less educational, less charitable netbooks, I can't recommend the Sylvania G Meso heartily enough. It got pretty abysmmal reviews from people scared off by the Linux OS, and for that reason, it's about $150 dollars cheaper than any comparable netbook. The company has straightened out all of the release issues and the ubuntu netbook remix OS is top notch and would be great for a kid.

Or for you, if you ever wanted to steal it from them to play around on.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everyone. I don't have kids so I'm not really a good judge of what is appropriate at what age (which led to the dirty looks his mother gave me when I gave him a farting birthday card). If we can get enough people together to swing the $400 pricetag I won't let his age scare me off too much.
posted by revgeorge at 5:00 PM on November 30, 2008

My son was using a PC (a 486, I think) in 1995 when he was 4. He taught himself to read from a game that had simple words like Toe and a graphic to match. (I think it was called something like bookworm). When he was 6, he came into the kitchen and told me "the sanctity of this place has been fouled." He turns 18 in February, he's very smart, a pacifist and an incredible history buff. I think he turned out excellently.

The thing is, if you're not supervising what's going on, you need to be discussing it in depth. Once 5 year olds learn to google they can innnocently and accidently come across disturbing material. So, nanny-ware of some kind and safe searches. And talk about it.

My daughter being a couple of years younger didn't get as much pleasure out of the computer until she got her own, being as she had to negotiate with her brother to get time on, couldn't achieve the same results (obviously two years behind him in reading) and was often the sidekick rather than the operator - so if you have more than one child using it, consider how the second one is affected by the skills of the first.

But talk about it - "Some kids spend a lot of time on the computer and not much time running around outside, what do you think about that?" and so on.
posted by b33j at 5:00 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Depends on the kid. Some kids just aren't wired for it, some are. No way to tell unless you give it a go. I don't remember ever not having a computer. I'm told I had one by age 3. I know I was reasonably good with BASIC when I turned 6 but really don't remember starting to program either.

For what it's worth, my kids will have access to computers from as soon as it's physically practical.
posted by wackybrit at 6:26 PM on November 30, 2008

I think you have your answer, but I'll pipe in with our experience. We gave one to our then-3-year-old last December. Now four she loves it and is far more savvy about it than I am. In addition to the games, drawing, music, etc., it has prompted basic skill development: She types stories on the thing and uses the calculator to check addition. She still jumps on our computer with the big color screen for youtube, Daniel Cook and the like. She takes good care of it, but occasionally forgets to plug it in to recharge.
posted by tidecat at 6:32 PM on November 30, 2008

You might consider how all this screen time will affect a young child. For example, here are some questions you might consider. Are the parents okay with electronic toys? If the recommended guidelines are for no more than 1-2 hours of screen time (TV, computer, gaming) per day, will the child be able to watch TV and play OLPC and still have time to exercise and do real-life activities that involve multiple senses? Will he be able to juggle non-linear OLPC with the very linear reading skills he is starting to learn? Will being able to click away from what he's reading make it hard to learn how to concentrate on linear reading? Will reading seem boring when the computer is using words, sounds, pictures and animation? Could you instead spend $400 on paint, music, gymnastics, soccer, science centre, museums, art galleries and other experiences? Or is the OLPC going to replace some TV time, thus actually providing for a richer and more interactive experience that taps into more senses and allows the child to practice new skills without subjecting him to further scheduled activities? Those are the things you might want to question. Depending on how and why the OLPC will be used, it may enrich or detract from the child's life. If it will enrich the child's life and you don't mind spending $400, it may be a great choice.
posted by acoutu at 8:37 PM on November 30, 2008

I was using windows 3.0 and dos at that age on my dad's packard bell. Now I work as an IT Professional without any formal training. So yes I say give that kid a computer! Make sure to encourage him to do things on the machine besides just games. My dad showed me dos commands and how to navigate windows and after a few years, bought me a book on html and got a copy of homesite (html editor) from work and away I went! Kids that age can lean so quickly on a computer.

*We didn't have the internet back in those days so there wasn't the worry about adult content and such. Not sure of any recommendations for that. Probably wouldn't take him long to figure out how to connect to wifi. Darn kids!
posted by meta87 at 9:28 PM on November 30, 2008

I spent some time with the olpc and really found it surprisingly lacking. It feels like a cheap fisher price toy, the display is terrible, sugar is a mess, it doesnt do wpa, it doesnt do flash, etc. A 5 year old will want to visit penguin party or a disney site or watch videos. The olpc is terrible for this. At 5 a child can be using an xp, vista, or an os x machine. These machines do so much more. I vote get him a cheap netbook, like the msi wind or eeepc, not the olpc.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:55 PM on November 30, 2008

My oldest son got his own Mac SE for Christmas when he was seven, and he'd have gotten a computer before that had it been affordable for our family. Our younger son was on his brother's machine by the time he was four.

I say get a conventional low end netbook or laptop and be prepared to spend some quality time with the child as well as the computer.

In the case of my oldest son, he was perfectly content to spend a large percentage of his computer time either writing stories or playing Oregon Trail. My youngest, while not a "math" kind of kid, loved a very simple add/subtract/multiply/divide video flashcard application and learned a lot from it.

You never know what will strike a specific child's fancy.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:07 AM on December 1, 2008

revgeorge, I sent you a memail about an OLPC that I have for sale which might interest you if price is a factor.
posted by Manhasset at 9:32 AM on December 1, 2008

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