Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 159 / DECEMBER 1993 / PAGE S4

How to enhance a computer-based education at home. (Compute's Getting Started With: Kids & Computers)

Making the most of computer software often involves activities that take kids away from the keyboard. The best learning takes place when kids transfer place when kids transfer knowledge they gain elsewhere to their work at the computer and vice versa. Consequently, there are an endless number of play activities you can launch at home that can enhance the knowledge that comes from the software.

For instance, those classic productivity tools--magic markers and construction paper--offer a greatbeginning. A good way of starting young children on the computer and reinforcing their awareness of the keyboards is to help them make a lmap of the keyboard on a piece of brightly colored construction paper. Outline each row of keys on the keyboard in a different color with magic marker. Then make a gussing game out of finding the keys. Let your child point out the locations of the A key and the B key. You fill in the letters they guess correctly. This works best when played near the actual computer keyboard where the kids can check their answers, and* you can help point out the locations. When you've filled in the key outlines, post the keyboard map near the computer and be sure to write the lowercase letters next to the capitals. Children just learning the alphabet are often confused at finding only capital letters on the PC keyboard.

Another homemade game that helps with keyboarding skills is to have the kids much letter flashcards with picture flaschcards (D for duck, G for girl) and then find the letter on the keyboard. here again, construction paper and magic markers come in handy. You can make the flashcards instead of buying them. And if you have more than one child, you can turn this into a game--kids enjoy competition. Make a chart to post on the kitchen wall or refrigerator. Use adhesive stars or stickers of animals to reward the child when he or she gusses correctly.

You also can relate story-telling softwae to creative writing exercises. Start with the verbal by having your child speak stories out loud and then work your way over to the keyboard. Children sometimes stall when asked to type out their thoughts so it's best to prompt them through the story by first asking them questions about it. Prompt your children to describe the scene of the activity, what they saw, what they hard, who did what, and why it was funny. Then sit with them at the keyboard as they enter the tale.

Storywriting software generally lacks a spelling checker so stand by with a dictionary to help your child look up the proper spellings of words. Dictionaries and other paper reference books provide excellent off-keyboard learning opportunities. Keep the stories short, as if they're telling the experience in a letter to Grandma--so children don't get bored.

>From the storywriting programs, such as storybook Weaver, kids can graduate to word processors, such as The Learning Company's The Children's Writing and Publishing Center, vhich features drawings that kids can use to illustrate their stories. With these programs, children actually can create storybooks, nice-looking reports, and newspapers.

No matter which program they use, be sure to keep colored magic markers, crayons, or inks at the ready to color in the print outs they make from the software. Most of us can't afford color printers, and children, who become spoiled looking at the colorful graphics onscreen, will want theBr creations to look as lovely as the computer graphics.

The coloring-in process often becomes a game in itself. Kids can have fun matching thbe colors to those they see on the computer screen. It's also fun to create silly stories by mixing up the colors in illogical ways--coloring in the story with a purple sky and green sun, for instance. From the simple notion of creating a coloring book story, you'll be introducing your child to the alphabet, words, phasFs, and a sense of illustration. What great practice for young writers and book publishers!

Programs with scientific and environmental themes offer all sorts of opportunities for backyard explorations, kitchen chemistry, and field trips. Davidson's Zookeeper, The Software Toolworks' The Animals!, and Soleil's new Zurk's Learning Safari offer many ways to promote children's interest in animals and their environments. zookeeper, with its emphasis on maintaining correct environments for endangered species, makes a great preface to a zoo trip. After the trip, The Animals! is a handy reference tool to review what was learned. Zurk's Learning Safari ofers games of classic learning skills (number, letter, and shape recognition) in an African safari setting. Among its puzzles, you'll find animal camouflage games that show how animals protect themselves by blending in with their environments. After a stint at the keyboard, it would be fun to venture into the backyard on your own expedition. Look for camouflaged animals, such as walking sticks and brown and gray moths that can't readily be seen against bark, as well as cabbage butterflies that look like white clover from the lawn.

Science programs offer no end of possibilities for kitchen and everyday household experiments. Programs, such as Sierra's Quarky & Quaysoo's Turbo Science and Binary Zoo's Wild Science Arcade, offer a host of onscreen experiments that illustrate scientific concepts and offer opportunities for real life exploration. You might illustrate solutions by dissolving salt or powdered drinks in water, magnetism by using simple magnets purchased in a dime store, and friction by rubbing rough surfaces together.

Even drill-and-practice programs, which present exercises in reading and math but don't suggest activities off the keyboard, can be used as rewards for work well-done. Offer the kids 20 minutes or so of playtime on The Learning Company's Reader Rabbit, for instance, after they finish their language arts homework. You'll extend the learning, and they'll think it's all in fun.