So, my school gives kids who do well and turn in all of their homework in 5th grade a laptop. I'm not sure what I think of this, me being raised that computers should be kept in public areas so as to keep kids out of trouble. What thoughts do you guys have on this?
I think that computers are incredibly powerful tools for learning, and getting them in the hands of as many children as possible is a good thing.
Certainly, supervising your children, especially when they have internet access, is a good idea. My 8yo keeps his netbook on a small work table in my office, so we have our computer time together. I do like that he's mobile -- he's even taken to coming to tech conferences with me (he spoke at one of them) -- and our rules at home are plenty to keep the computer where it belongs.
There are two sides to this issue you need to consider. The first you already hinted at: for every constructive or enriching or wholesome activity you can do on the computer or internet, there are at least as many time-wasting or even harmful activities. At that age, the majority of the responsibility for their safety and protection is still with you as their parent. There need to be rules and guidelines and appropriate parental controls, record keeping, etc.
On the other hand, the only way for your child to develop responsibility is to...you guessed it, be given responsibility and trusted as responsible. Once you've discussed your concerns with your child and the rules and safeguards are in place, give them some space and some trust. Children are so much more likely to be responsible if they feel like they are trusted and being treated responsibly. That doesn't mean don't check up on things and follow through with the rules you've set. That simply means don't be paranoid about it, don't do things behind their back, etc, anything that would suggest you don't trust them.
"My school gives kids who do well and turn in all of their homework in 5th grade a laptop".
That's one way to widen the gap between those who are made for our school system and those who need a different approach. The tool might actually be better placed in the hands of those who aren't doing as well.
Yes, supervision is important. I equate internet freedom with physical freedom; by grade 5, they should know how to keep themselves out of trouble in the same way that they can safely cross the street and walk a few blocks to school on their own.
I’m currently a college student and I used an iPad and laptop at school. I certainly think it did advance my technological skills, but has certainly been a detriment to my education. The ability to access anything, at any time often withers the child’s attention (like mine) to nothing. This is advice from someone who used (and still does) such in school.
When I wrote this answer, I didn't realize that the question was seven years old. Things have changed in the past seven years.
My own son (2nd Grade) uses his computer for much of his schooling. The compute does not replace other materials at this point, but it certainly augments them with activities and media.
In addition to the normal academics, he has started learning java programming of his own interest, because he wanted to make Minecraft mods. Computer programming is something you really do need a computer to learn.
I start recruiting people for my webcast team at 5th grade. A degree of familiarity and comfort with technology is expected by that age. The gentleman on the right in the picture below started webcasting on my team when he was in 5th grade. In this shot he is technical director, keeping track of and directly controlling multiple pieces of tech from his station. He got that familiarity with tech by having devices that he could play with on his own terms, before he was brought to my attention as a candidate for the team.