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Let's Learn To Think Like A Computer!
By: Lee Doerksen, Dragonfly Staff


Helping cognitively young children learn to use computers.



There is this halo floating around the personal computer lately. PC's (yes, and the wonderful Mac's) are advancing so quickly in speed, capacity, and functionality that one wonders what they won't be able to do in the near future. The power that these little machines afford the average user is truly exciting. It stands to reason that every parent wants their child to be able to tap in to this new source of power.

Before we take off flying with our little computer, let's remember that it is a great tool for learning some of the simpler concepts. Cause and effect, sequencing, matching, and many more of the basic skills can be heightened with the effective use of your personal computer. Key here is effective use, meaning to use the computer as one of the tools in your play and education toolkit, and forget, for a while, all of the potential uses that you will later explore. It is easy to get lost in the overwhelming future, to the detriment of the present. So let's keep it simple.

For a cognitively young child, the computer can present an extraordinary challenge. All those nasty keys and computing conventions in the GUI (that need to be understood prior to effective use) can present a brick wall to progress. Thankfuly, like every brick wall, there is a way around, and the way is simple. Literally.

Let's lay down some quick 'simple' ground rules which we will expound upon in further articles. Think of these tips as the macro concerns which we will keep in mind at all times during later discussions. Here we go:

1.) Break down the interface barrier. At first, even the friendly mouse is an unruley animal. A child won't understand that what they do outside the computer can actually affect what goes on inside the computer. Don't bother with usage until you have played with the simplest of cause and effect conventions.

2.) Let the real world open windows to the virtual world. Use a selection of good old fashioned toys and games to start the process. If you want to teach cause and effect, start with simple toys, and then later make the leap to the computer screen.

3.) Keep anything extraneous hidden from view. Minimize distractions at all times in order to allow the child to focus on the task at hand.

4.) Make a plan. Don't let the readily available dictate your developmental programming. Find the items that fit in to your plan, then step your child up towards your goals. Starting in the middle is the surest way to never reach the top.

5.) Get some help. You know those computer wizards you envy sometimes, the ones that write programs and design circuit boards and such? Well, even they have problems with software and hardware outside of their area of expertise. So find someone who knows your paradigm, latch on, and don't let go until you are the new expert on the block. (Then, please, pay your dues and help a friend.)

I will lend you the mantra my old professor once lent me. Keep it simple. My experience with teaching new users about alternate access devices taught me to follow the old man's advice. I recommend it to you. The simple skills, properly taught, will lead to rapid progress further down the line. And then, properly prepared, you and your child can really open up the potential of these wonderful little machines.
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