Helping your Child with Computer Skills
Posted by Kathy Lappin on 8/22/2016
Parents often ask me what they can do at home to strengthen their child's computer skills. Whether you are a Mac or a PC family, there are three main areas to cover when helping your child. The three areas are: program knowledge, internet navigation, and typing. While it is true that children are more comfortable than ever using various tech gadgets, it does not mean they know how to use all programs and applications to their fullest potential. We are a PC district, so I will speak to Microsoft programs rather than Mac Applications, but similar programs exist in both platforms.
The programs that I recommend using when working on program knowledge are MS Word, MS Paint, MS Publisher, and Excel. You can also use Google Docs for all of the same tasks - for free, as long as you sign up for a free gmail account. In the elementary buildings we still use Microsoft programs, so let's start with MS Word. What can your child do in Word? The very basic skills would be the ability to navigate the Home menu. You can have your child write a friendly letter to a relative or friend. By having your child change the font style and size, they are demonstrating the ability to give the program commands by highlighting and changing their text. You can go further and ask your child to underline, bold and italicize some words. You can make up other fun assignments, too. The following include some great ideas for using MS Word with your child.
- Create a grocery list
- Write Thank You letters for gifts received
- Type a review of a movie after watching it
- Type a favorite poem, song, or nursery rhyme
- Create an original story
- Type a list of sight words
There are many more ideas you could imagine, I'm sure. Keep in mind, that when you are working on helping your child improve his/her computer skills, do not worry too much about grammar skills and spelling. Naturally, you want your child to write in complete sentences (unless it is a bulleted list), but if a child is too bogged down with spelling, then they are not focusing on getting their ideas on the page.
Microsoft Paint is an often overlooked program, but I have found a great deal of value in using it with children. One of the most frequent reasons I use the program is to help 5-7 year olds with clicking, dragging and selecting objects. Practicing this skill helps with fine motor development and hand-eye coordination, both of which are necessary skills when using a computer. The best part about the program is it is fun, so kids are having a good time while practicing important skills. Each season you could have your child draw an outside scene of the weather. The program has many different paint brushes and shape tools to make people who are not good at drawing with paper and pencil to be quite skilled in the program. You can have your child draw pictures in MS Paint when they are feeling sad or angry. Drawing is a great activity to express feelings.
Microsoft Publisher and Excel are wonderful programs, as well. In the elementary buildings we do not use Excel, but that does not mean you can't begin showing your child at home. Publisher is fun for creating cards and flyers. Next time your child has to complete a book report, MS Publisher would be a great program to use. You can also have your child design his/her own party invitations or thank you cards. There are so many possibilities, the main thing is that you sit with your child and guide them along.
The next area I suggest working on is internet navigation. I know your child is most likely online a lot and he/she probably seems to make their way around the internet fairly well, but there are always little things one can do to improve. I try to stress to students to type the exact web address instead of just searching the name of the website on Google. Now, is this such a big deal? No, not really, but if you can save a step, then why make more work for yourself. For example, if I allow students to go to poptropica.com with some free choice time, I do not want to see those students searching for poptropica in the Google search bar. I expect my students to type the exact URL in the address bar. It saves a step and I always say: "Why are you going to search for a website when you already know the exact address?" Another great skill to practice is having your child open up more than one website at a time and toggle back and forth among them. It will be a big time-saver when your child has to conduct some online research. To continuously open and close browser windows, instead of opening multiple tabs or multiple windows wastes a lot of time. Little time savers like that can be super helpful.
Lastly, it is imperative that you allow your child to practice typing at home, if possible. I know we live in an age where touch screens and tablets have kind of taken over, but typing on a keyboard is not going away anytime soon. Quite honestly, if you have spent any amount of time typing on a tablet, then you surely know that a keyboard is a much better tool for that job. Typing on touch screens can be annoying, at best. For middle school, high school, and career readiness our children need to be efficient typists. Touch typing using the home row keys is the best way to increase accuracy and speed in this area. District 122 purchased typing software that children in grades 1-8 use, at least once a week. Some of our youngest students have turned out to be the best touch typists. I have a theory on this one. I think our first and second graders have not used the computer enough to type using the peck and find method, and so they are less likely to fight me when it comes time to use both hands and keep their fingers on the home row. Our third through fifth graders have more trouble maintaining the discipline needed to keep their fingers on the home row because they have had more experience typing incorrectly. So please, if you are interested in helping your child master this skill, make sure they keep their hands on the home row keys.
There are certainly more ways than those I have listed that you can help your children become even more savvy with technology, but these ideas should help you get started. Even if you do not feel exactly comfortable with your own skills, the ones I detailed are great for you and your child to kind of learn together. We are becoming increasingly aware that screen time should be kept to a minimum when it comes to children, so you want to make sure that when your child is on a computer he/she is getting the most out of the experience.