Many parents contact me to ask whether they should buy a laptop for their child. In today’s technological world, we tend to think that every child needs a computer of their own. In reality, there are many factors to consider when making this decision. The culture at your child’s school may be such that almost every child has a laptop. If this is true, teachers may ask students to use their laptop in class for specific tasks. Or, it may be the other way around. It might be that almost no one has one.
Is it necessary to have a laptop to do well in school?
There are a few students who need a laptop or they will not succeed in school. These students have difficulty with handwriting. They are either dysgraphic (see Does My Child Have Dysgraphia) or just very slow when handwriting. These students benefit from learning how to use a computer, especially if they receive the appropriate training on the keyboard. They should be able to type fast enough to keep up with others who are handwriting notes (approximately 20-25 words/minute is plenty fast). They also need to handle their computer at an automatic level. In other words, they are not distracted by having a computer for taking notes or completing assignments. They operate it efficiently with ease.
There are some students who can benefit from a laptop, but it is not necessary for academic success. These students are organized and can take care of a laptop responsibly. They already type well enough and use correct fingering. They also resist the temptation of all the extra "stuff" on their computer (like games). But, they can manage just fine handwriting their notes and assignments.
Then, there are the students who are actually harmed by having a laptop in class. They play games when they are supposed to be listening. This is almost impossible for the teacher to monitor. They cannot stand behind every student with a laptop all the time to see what they are doing. If a school provides wireless access, this becomes an even bigger issue! (Not only will they be playing games on their computer, but they will also be shopping for new jogging shoes.)
Students who probably are better off without a laptop are not computer savvy enough to manage the computer on their own. For example, they lose their files, forget to print out their notes, or frequently misplace their flash drive. These students are not able to take care of their computer so it is always in need of repair. They have trouble remembering to charge the battery before classes and forget to bring the power cord. For these students, a laptop becomes a distraction and they may learn less in class than they would if they did not have it.
The decision to buy a laptop is not an easy one. It may be a good idea to discuss it with your child’s teacher before making the purchase. Also consider that when children own laptops it is more difficult to monitor their online activities at home. There is something to be said for having an "old fashioned" desktop computer in the family room!