Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 159 / DECEMBER 1993 / PAGE S8

How to establish computer rules and boundaries. (Compute's Getting Started With: Kids & Computer)

Not surprisingly, a home computer is just as fascinating to kids as the buttons on a TV set or the remote control of a VCR. But with a computer, the damage can be more costly if inquisitive fingers set something awry. Nothing does in a fast, highpowered computer system--or a slow, low-powered one for the mat[er--faster than a paper clip or the tooth of a fork poking around inside an open disk drive.

If you have young children in the house, you'll need to impress upon them the fact that the computer is community property and tech them to respect the progr+ms and files others have stored on the disk. In addition, it's a good idea to make your system as bullet-proof as possible by keeping any openings out of view and using a menu to prevent the kids from escaping from their games to the DOS prompt.

The first rule of household computing should be "no food, drinks, Silly Putty, or Slime" near the keyboard. It's a rule that even adults break from time to time. At a minimum, spills and mysterious oozes will cause the keyboard keys to stick. And depending on where they're spilled, they can short out a system or cause other problems. A "no eating at the keyboard" rule also hnelps keep the monitor free of sticky fingerprints. Young children like to touch what they see onscreen. If computing takes place around snack time, you'll soon be cleaning smears and smudges from the monitor.

With very young children in the house, it's generally a good idea to tape a piece of stiff cardboard over the front panel of the computer to insure the drive slots and reset button are out of sight and beyond temptation. Too often, there's more truth than humor in the TV commercial that shows a baby feeding oatmeal to the VCR. Disk openings, with their red LEDs that blink on and off, are fascinating to young minds, so it's best to cover drive openings so they won't be a temptation to prying little fingers.

You'll also want to limit children's access to the command prompt, directories, and your own adult files--financial records, correspondence, and spreadsheets. You won't want the kids trying out the new DELETE command they learned in school on your root directory, for instance.

Just about any menu program will let you set up a master screen to which the system boots when it's turned on, and most of these let you password-protect the various menu options so that they can't be accessed randomly. If you really want to create a fun space for the kids, check out Edmark's Kid Desk, a menu program designed expecially for kids.

KidDesk's menu looks like a real desk. You can set up individualized desks for children and password protect access to the DOS prompt. The program comes with two delightful features for the whole family--a notepad with sound support so you can record voice messages to each other, and the ability to scan in photos fo your children and place them in picture frames on their individual desks.

Colored floppy disks offer a good way to distinguish the kids' working files from your own. If you children are creating storybooks and drawings with print kits and paint programs, such as KidPix or Kid Works 2, it's often a good idea to store the files on floppies so they don't use space on your hard disk. Children enjoy bright colors more than black. And by reserving red for James and blue for Carrie, they'll have a way to quickly identify and locate their own working files. You might even consider buying your kids separate disk caddies of different colored plastics so their disks have their very own home.