Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 136 / DECEMBER 1991 / PAGE S4

How to start your child with computers. (Kids & Computers)
by Heidi E. H. Aycock

Getting kids started with computers is like getting kids started with food. When they're ready, they'll reach out and go for it. You really won't need to do much more than set the table.

"The best way [to get a child started with computers] is to get a computer and start playing with it yourself," says Barbara Bowman, director of graduate studies at the Erikson Institute of Loyola University of Chicago. "The child will then push you hands out of the way to start playing with it because children like to do what parents are doing."

Besides playing at home, though, Bowman suggests that you point out all of the other places where computers are useful--cash registers in stores, bank machines, and even electronic medical devices at the doctor's office.

If you have access to a science museum in your area, check for exhibits about computers. In Boston, the Computer Museum devotes its entire collection to this technology. Kids can explore hands-on displays, finding out for themselves how interesting computers can be.

Bring on the Food

Once you've whetted their appetites, your kids will be ready for their first computerized activities. These should be fun, free explorations.

You should look for software specially designed for young children. Most good packages exploit a child's natural curiosity, encouraging exploration and experimentation. These packages should also be suited to your child's developmental level, or all of the whiz-bang features will be worthless.

Don't limit yourself to traditional educational packages, though. Many children enjoy playing with word processors and graphics packages. Any program that encourages creativity and communication will be an ideal application du jour for kids.

With a word processor, let your kids tap away at the keys. Then ask them to tell you what they've written. They'll usually read aloud a tall tale written in their own secret codes. You could also take dictation, typing a story that your child tells you.

With graphics programs, your kids can, of course, create their own artwork. But try to use these programs for other games, too. draw various shapes for your kids to identify. Then let your children choose colors to fill in the shapes. Use your imagination to develop theirs.

Table Manners

Freedom is an important part of play, but set up some rules so that your children don't overdo or undo the valuable lessons they can learn.

"All the rules you make about the piano you can make about the keyboard," says Bowman.

But don't make too many rules, or you'll drive children away, she adds. "If you're constantly stopping them, it's no fun."

Use rules to protect your hardware, but also use them to help everyone play fair. "Set ground rules so everyone gets a chance," says Jane Davidson, master teacher at the University of Delaware Laboratory Preschool and author of Children and Computers Together in the Early Childhood Classroom.

Some children need time limits so they don't spend too much time in front of the monitor and not enough outside or with a book, says Davidson. As with other activities, however, time limits can be extended under special circumstances--for example, when your kids get a new program or when they need to write a long letter to thank Grandma for that new program.

Gourmet Secrets

As you introduce your children to computers, don't put too much pressure on them. also, don't invest the computer with so much importance that your kids will think they must like it.

"Parents need to realize that some kids are going to find the computer really fascinating and spend a lot of time with it, and others won't," says Davidson. "If parents get uptight about whether their kids like to use the computer, it tends to become a power struggle."

Taking all of this advice into account, you can help your children most by sitting with them as they begin and staying with them as the learn. Playing together is the best recipe for a delicious experience in computing.