Thursday, June 29, 2006

Introducing your Toddler to the Computer

By Christina VanGinkel

It is an electronic world that we live in today. By the time, our children enter Kindergarten, most will already know how to use a mouse, maneuver through Windows, and play a game or two on a computer. The most basic computer skills are often already well on their way to being instilled. Just a few years ago, this was not the norm, and most children were not introduced to a computer until sometime in elementary or even middle school.

Now, when children are first introduced to the computer though, it is often on the lap of a parent, with the parent actually working the computer and the toddler just looking on. From here, they often begin pounding on the keyboards and when they get a reaction out of a parent, they realize that hitting those keys makes something happen. With the way, most little minds soak up data that is all it takes for children to want to learn just how to make that thing on the desk, work. If you just push their hands away though, and tell them not to touch, they will either be more inclined to bang away at the keyboard, or end up losing interest in it all together.

Instead of waiting for such a scenario to happen, take the time to sit with your toddler at the computer. Be prepared with a program that was created for toddlers, such as the Jumpstart Advanced Toddlers computer game. The Jumpstart Advanced Toddlers CD will work with Windows 98 / Me / XP / 2000, or the Mac OS X. It is available for less than twenty dollars and I have seen it listed at Amazon.com for less than fifteen dollars. Jumpstart Advanced Toddlers is designed to engage your toddler through colors and sounds, and includes learning and activities through colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. It comes with three CD ROMS, which also include sing along activities, arts and crafts, and much more.

Besides taking the time to engage your toddler in such a game as this or some other game created for toddlers, also allow your toddler to hold the mouse and actively move it, even clicking the buttons. If banging on the keyboard is still uppermost in their agenda each time they sit at the computer with you, move it. I have a cordless keyboard, and when I first allowed my young grandson, who is not yet three years old, sit at the computer, I would move the keyboard right out of his reach. Now that he is capable of understanding the function of certain keys over other ones, I allow him to use it for certain activities, but will still move it out of the way if it is not needed for whatever activity we are doing together. He loves to play Ice Age the Meltdown, and he quickly learned that the arrow keys can make the characters on the screen do what he wants them to do.

A few notes: There are computer programs that come with keyboards made specifically for baby to use. When baby hits any key on the board, certain tasks play out. While some parents say these are great, I have never used one, so cannot comment on if these are a good way for your toddler to experience the computer. I also know of someone who gave their toddler an old keyboard to bang on, not connected to the computer. As long as you sit right there, I would see no harm in this, but do not let them take the keyboard away from you to play with. The keys can easily come off many keyboards and could quickly become a choking hazard. Also, never let your toddler play unattended anywhere near the computer. With the maze of cords and other electrical issues, there can be nothing good to come for a toddler who is allowed to crawl around by the family computer.

Remember that toddlers can quickly become bored or over stimulated, so keep their time at the computer limited to short periods. A parent or other caregiver should also, always sit at the computer with a toddler for a variety of reasons, including that a toddler should never be left unattended with electronic equipment. In addition, children are going to gain a lot more from the experience if they have the guidance and the camaraderie of someone else. It is a great way for parent and child to share a few quiet moments doing something fun.

Introducing your toddler to the family computer is a great way to know that they will gain the skills to operate a mouse, something that more and more schools expect when your child eventually enters preschool or kindergarten.

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