Teaching Basic Computer Skills to Kids

It is probably a very laudable aim of most parents, all over the western world, to have their children get into computing. No home should be without one. It’s the wave of the future, etc., etc. But just what can parents do to encourage the IT career option, or even just lay the groundwork for their kids to be proficient users and consumers of PCs? Well, the first thing is to define what exactly is meant by ‘basic computer skills'. A computer is an electronic device and is therefore, potentially dangerous. So some very basic computer skills have to be taught such as: how to turn it on and off, how not to pour drinks into it, but more importantly how to sit and interact with it, without damaging your posture and eyesight. These are thing's only teachers, and parents can drill into kids. It is boring and nagging yes, but totally necessary. After all, there is no point in teaching your child something without adequate safety.

Most parents are ensuring their children get an education in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic and these skills are the same basic skills needed for working on a computer. But consider this: giving your children a second language, in their early years, is an excellent foundation for teaching basic computer skills, because programming is, after all, another language, albeit one that is only written and read.

The only other basic computer skill is keyboard, mouse and increasingly touch screen functioning. They don’t need to know how the various bits of the machine work or how to read the codes in order to enjoy the benefits of a PC. But they do need to know how to type the @ sign, what the ‘tab’ key will do, how to point and click with a cursor or touch pad and all the other thousands of mini tasks assigned to your computer’s peripherals.

Remember how you learned to do these things? Probably not very well, because it was a slow, long term, iterative process full of trial-and-error. Practice makes perfect. The only way to teach basic computing skills is to provide the equipment and make encouraging noises, spiced with the few shortcuts and tips you have picked up in your own learning. Spending time with your kids and the computer, engaging with them and having fun is the only way to give them the roots to grow their skills and the wings to fly with them. Of course, you could always hand the whole teaching thing over to a paid professional. It would save you time, if not money, but where is the fun in that?

Beyond the keyboard/mouse screen interaction, there is another basic computing skill, and it is organising and tracking information. This all about concepts like files, folders, partitions, saving, deleting, recovering and all the other things that are being done for the computer user, by using the ‘operating system’. But just as it is important to be able to do long division in your head or on paper, without the calculator, a basic computer skill is information handling storage and recall. There are lots of books and computer-based training packages that can do the major part of teaching your child, this knowledge. They are better for parents than trying to make up your lesson plans on the hoof, because they are complete and consistent and verified. The teacher’s role is again one of encouragement and motivation. Of course, when it comes to kids, this comes with great concentration and patience too!

For the computer prodigy or the pushy parent who wants the next Bill Gates or Tim Berners Lee in the family, there is no better way of launching a career in computers than building them from their component parts and learning programming by doing it. There is an excellent small self-assembly computer kit that can then be programmed, available over the Internet for as little as $25. It is called the Raspberry Pi. Google it, or get your child to do it for you as part of the learning process.


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