My kids have been pointing and clicking since before they were walking. When they were very little, they would sit on my lap and I’d fire up a little piece of OS X freeware called Baby Banger that creates colored shapes and sounds every time the mouse is clicked. As they got a little older, they moved into game playing on an old computer. Didi & Ditto, Groovy Music and, of course, Kid Pix became instant favorites. But now that they’re in first-grade, I want to kick it up a notch and begin working with them on building some basic skills in real-life applications.
First, I decided which apps to concentrate on. Recently, my kids have shown interest in writing e-mails to their grandparents, so our e-mail client, Apple Mail, will be on the list. They see mom & dad browsing all the time, therefore Firefox will be included. And then, in order for them to understand some of the productivity tasks a computer can help with, we’ll take a look at Photoshop and InDesign, the tools that this GeekDad can be seen using most often at home.
I also decided to remain pretty basic. I don’t expect six-year-olds to be running an application with any level of proficiency, but I wanted to pique their interest, cover some of the most simple operations and give them a head start into understanding how some applications work.
To get started, we sat down and opened up Mail. I showed them how to create a new message and populate the "To", "Subject" and message fields. To help illustrate some e-mail functions, I took out a pile of the previous day’s mail and used it as a visual aid to talk about concepts like replying, forwarding and adding attachments. Sadly, there was enough junk mail that we could also talk about what spam was.
After that lesson, we put our learning to use, sending e-mail to every relative we could think of. This also provided an opportunity to reinforce a concept we had already worked on – copying and pasting.
A few days later, we took on Firefox. Unfortunately, pretty much every time my kids see a browser window open, they want to watch the video of
"the dinosaur farting".
For the record, I have no idea where they found out about this or why they continue to be entranced by it. (That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.)
To begin with, I tried to explain how the Web works. We compared a Web site to our house. There are many Web sites – like there are many houses – and each one is different. When you go inside a home or a Web site, there are many different rooms (like pages). I went on to explain that sites use links that allow you to jump from one room to another – or even from house to house – without using the hallways or streets.
With that analogy more or less understood, we spent some time with
Google and clicked through, back and forward on some links. I think they grasped the theory of browsing – or at least said they did. But because their reading skills are still at a beginning level, their interest began to wane pretty quickly. So back to the farting dinosaurs we went.
Photoshop & InDesign
Ever since my kids could draw, they have wanted to "draw on daddy’s computer". In another context, this could bring up nightmares of a horrible clean-up emergency, but my kids were referring to using a Wacom tablet to draw in Photoshop. It’s an activity I could never say "no" to. And now, I figured was a good time to introduce some of the other tools that
Photoshop has to offer. Plus, since we were dealing with a program similar to something they already knew (Kid Pix) and the fact that Photoshop uses a more visual interface, I thought we’d have an advantage over reading the Web.
But where to start? Fortunately, I found some really great tips over at Camp Photoshop.
I like his approach and used it with my kids, expanding from paint brush and the eraser on a blank canvas to uploading some photos of the kids and applying some basic filters … which caused an all-out gigglefest, especially when we started playing with the Liquify filter. We played around for a bit (and I agree that’s the key in teaching this stuff –
keep it fun) before deciding to move on to InDesign.
I explained that InDesign allowed us to make books, brochures and flyers – pretty much anything that could be printed out could be created in InDesign. Since my kids are really into putting on shows right now, we decided to create a flyer for their upcoming "Monster
Show". After grabbing a picture of Frankenstein and a werewolf, we added some text for the title, time and date. I showed them how easy it was to move things around and they put everything where they wanted it.
Finally, we printed out the flyer and invited mom & the grandparents to the Monster Show … via e-mail, of course.
I think we had a really good introduction into some basic (and not so basic) applications. Like any learning, the next step has to include repetition, since frequency will help them retain what they’ve learned.
I’m going to see how they do and add some skills as they become more able. Some of the concepts are beyond what their minds are capable of understanding, but I reason that an early introduction will only help them down the road. I also think they will benefit from some typing skills. I found an instructional typing game and we’re going to put it to use … I’m sure they’ll be out-typing their dad in no time.
I also want to talk about file system structures and some other OS
basics at some point too. I truly believe that a basic OS understanding
– even if it’s a 10,000 foot view – accompanied with a healthy dose of intelligence and common sense can help diagnose 90% of the problems people run into on their computers.
I’m interested in hearing other approaches for teaching your kids – how early did they start? How did you get them started? Are they coding yet? Let us know!