Whiz Kids How to Grow Your O
From: Jason(Ripp) Rippetoe
This is something I got off of America Online. The article is a guide to introducing your kids to the Macintosh. I thought it had some helpful information, so I’m passing it along to you.
Whiz Kids: How to Grow Your Own
By Gerald and Nancy Reed
How Can I Get My Kids More Interested in the Mac? This is a question parents constantly ask. Most answers are common sense, others are surprising. First, provide children with ready access to the computer. This seems obvious, but when we asked many computer-owning parents, “Where do you keep your Mac?” their answer was “in my bedroom,” “in the study” – in other words, out of harm’s way. While this may be convenient for your work, the computer needs to be where the kids can see and use it easily. We have our Mac on an inexpensive “roll-around” computer cart located in our living room, sandwiched between a piano and two bookcases.
Second, your kids need to see you using the computer. Psychologists call this “modeling,” when kids imitate what they see and hear. You can facilitate this by putting your Mac in a public place. Of course, we don’t recommend you try to write the great American novel amidst the din of the kids’ playroom. However, if you have some relatively non-taxing work to do, let your kids watch. Encourage them to ask questions, and take a few moments to show them what you are doing. If you are writing a letter, let them read part of it or, better yet, help them compose a letter while you type it. You may be surprised at the apparently adult applications your kids are interested in. (As we write this, our middle child wanders over periodically to see which application we are using and to push for his “turn.”)
Third, kids need semi-structured “jobs” to get them started on the computer. Pick a topic you know your kids like and get them to draw a graphic about it, or write a few sentences using the computer. Show them how to get started, in many ways that’s the hardest part. Don’t push and don’t start with their homework. Find a topic your kids will like and help them get started illustrating or explaining it on the Mac. Our 8-year old likes to make “Dinosaur Bulletins” using MacWrite. Each time he reads about or hears of a new dinosaur, he adds a page. Have them make their own “books” illustrated with their drawings and commercial clip-art. Serve as a scribe for your younger child or, get an older brother or sister to help.
What Can I Do to Reduce the Chance Of Wipe Out? Children have none of our fears of the unknown and this is an extremely positive factor in their learning. They don’t care about saving face, nor feel threatened by technology. They regard what they don’t understand with curiosity, not fear. To get the best results project an image of “no fear” yourself. If you are constantly leaping off the couch to see what caused that particular system beep, you just won’t be as effective in getting your kids going on computing than if you relax and serve more as a resource than a policeman.
It has been our experience that concerns about damage to hardware or software, and losing important data to young fingers is a major reason parents don’t adequately encourage children to use their computers. The good news is that most of this concern is misplaced and problems are easily prevented with a little advanced planning and a few reasonable ground rules.
Short of spilling soda into the keyboard or the CPU, there is little probability of hardware damage. Make sure the power, mouse and keyboard cords are placed where no one will become entangled, or trip on them. Although a variety of system “lockups” and “bombs” may occur if yours is a truly ambitious young hacker, none of these is likely to really hurt your system. Mechanically securing all system components using a strong, sturdy piece of computer furniture, and carefully routing wires and cables are all that is necessary to protect your hardware.
Your software and files pose a second, more complex problem. If nimble young fingers manage to drag your favorite application to the trash can, or if your daughter saves her endangered species book report over the final draft of your autobiography, you are likely to need a family counselor and a tech support hotline.
It is worth pointing out that these calamities are infrequent. In our work with 4th and 5th graders, we have had no serious loss of data or hardware failures. On our home Mac with two children and two adults using it every day for a year, we have had only one serious system “crash.” We believe this happened when our particularly ambitious 5-year old systems analyst threw some of the contents of the system folder into the trash can. Some sleep, but no data or applications were lost.
Heart palpations like these are readily preventable. One strategy we heartily recommend is backing up regularly to floppy disks or, for more ease and convenience, some sort of tape system. If you have valuable business or personal data on your hard drive, then you should be backing it up regularly anyway, even if your kids never touch the keyboard. Security software such as Apple’s At Ease is complementary to backup in many ways. It limits the visibility of data and programs, and keeps little fingers at bay.
What Kind of Software Helps Kids on the Computer? Opinions vary here, though we have several recommendations. Stay away from the “drill and kill” genre – programs stressing repetition, memorization, speed of response and highly structured material. While there is certainly a place for programmatic instruction, it is almost certainly not in your living room. If your children are using computers in school, they, unfortunately, are likely to be using them for short bursts of rote instruction. Give kids a break; focus your home Mac efforts on creative thinking and synthesis of ideas.
Several excellent packages are available. The Carmen Sandiego series of geography and history adventure games, Destination Mars, a space science simulation game, and several others stand out. These programs manage to instruct while entertaining, and they require real thought and non-computer reading and research to complete.
For kids’ “art” programs, KidPix and KidPix Companion stand out. Fundamentally drawing programs, the clever use of sound, icons and colorful effects renders them absolutely enchanting for all ages. Your kids will love them, and if they are using these programs to illustrate subjects of their own choosing and interest, they are getting more out of your Mac than is probable from an immense amount of drill and kill.
What Can My Kids Do with the Applications I Already Have? Children can easily use word processing programs like MacWrite and ClarisWorks. We use these programs day in and day out, and in doing so, often forget the entertainment and self expression kids can get out of them. Since many kids love to make lists, help them with a Christmas or birthday list, or a TV schedule, etc., using the word processor. Use a spreadsheet to teach your kids about tables and graphs. Which dinosaurs were the heaviest or the tallest? Graph the height of each family member or the weight of your pets. Children will also enjoy almost any drawing programs.
My Children Are Young. What Can They Do with Our Mac? Your younger children can benefit as much or more than older kids from using the Mac. For example, our 8-year old has made HyperCard stacks, including an animation of a volcano erupting. He uses the Voyager planetarium program to illustrate constellations and other features of the night sky. He does what he likes and we usually wait for him to ask us how to do a particular activity since he does not want us “showing him everything.”
We look upon our 5-year old as a “hacker.” He checks out every program to see what types of resources it has, where they go, what they do, and how he can modify them according to his particular needs and standards. Unlike his older brother, he is only interested in reading computer manuals. He is, however, an explorer and frequently figures out how to do something before his parents do, cheerfully showing off his new-found knowledge. And, in the morning, he spends an extra hour at the computer before school.
Our 3-year old daughter likes KidPix (in Small Kids Mode) and just “typing.” She will happily sit beside her older brothers and listen to lectures on how to use KidPix, ClarisWorks, HyperCard, etc.
The main problem is working out fair (and not necessarily equal) work schedules. We bought a PC version of a particularly beloved game to gain more time for us on our Mac.
These children are unexceptional except in their exposure to and consequent familiarity with computers. Your kids, too, can do amazing things on your Mac or PC with limited training, your support and ample opportunity to practice.
How Can I Find Time to Teach My Kids?
You don’t have to teach them all personally. Show the older kids and encourage them to teach the younger ones. You will be pleasantly surprised at how well this can work.
We have had great success when older children work with younger kids, both at our house and at school. We used high school students to teach our 4th and 5th graders, and we’ve had middle school students teach our students using the ClarisWorks word processor. All the kids thoroughly enjoyed the process, and learning took place both by the tutors and the trainees.
There is considerable anecdotal and some formal data that both older and younger children benefit when the older child serves as the “writer” while the younger dictates a story, letter, etc. Having them “publish” their story can be fun for all ages. Encourage them to use the spell checker and to take pride in a nice-looking story.
This kind of cooperative learning may reduce the inevitable sibling battles by creating at least one instance where the warring factions have a structured opportunity to work and enjoy together. As far as your own time goes, you probably want to spend time working with each child individually, focusing on his or her favorite activity. If your child is a writer, explore the word processing package and check out new features, or work together to paste pictures into your child’s story. If you “explore” with your child, he or she will learn how to figure out new features without you demonstrating each one. This can be fun for both of you, and is a great learning experience for your child.
The important point here is that you don’t need to spend all your computer time lecturing your child. Encourage them to read the manuals, explore the Help available for various programs, and make sure he or she has the skills to use the basic features of a program.
You don’t have to be an expert to teach kids about the computer. Get them started and they’ll teach you. Go slowly, be supportive, encourage your kids to learn for themselves. Then let them take it from there – and be prepared to be impressed with what they produce.