Before they can even read, nearly one out of every four children in preschool is learning a skill that even some adults have yet to master: using the internet.

Some 23 percent of children in nursery school–kids ages 3, 4, or 5–have gone online, according to a new Education Department (ED) report. By kindergarten, 32 percent have used the internet, typically under adult supervision.

The numbers underscore a trend in which the largest group of new users of the internet are kids ages 2 to 5. These figures have important implications for school systems, which must adjust their methods of instruction to accommodate an increasingly tech-savvy generation of new students, experts say.

At school and home, children are viewing web sites with interactive stories and animated lessons that teach letters, numbers, and rhymes.

“Young students don’t differentiate between the face-to-face world and the internet world,” said Susan Patrick, who oversees technology for the department. “They were born into the age of the internet. They see it as part of the continuum of the way life is today.”

Overall computer use, too, is becoming more common among the youngest learners. Department figures show that two-thirds of nursery school children and 80 percent of kindergartners have used computers.

Virtually all U.S. schools are connected to the internet, with about one computer for every five students, according to the federal government. Many older students are often far ahead of their teachers in computer literacy–and they know their younger siblings are gaining on them.

As one high school student told Patrick recently: “You grew up with music in your blood. Well, we have technology in our blood.”

Percentage of students who use computers and the internet either at home or at school (as of 2003)
Grade level % using
% using
the internet
Nursery school 67% 23%
Kindergarten 80% 32%
Grades 1-5 91% 50%
Grades 6-8 95% 70%
Grades 9-12 97% 80%
SOURCE: Education Department Report

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