When Home Becomes A Technology-Based Center of Education

Making the most of computer software often combines activities that take kids away from the keyboard. The best learning takes place when kids transfer knowledge they gain elsewhere to their work at the computer and vice versa. Consequently, there are an endless number of play activities you can launch at home that can enhance the knowledge that comes from the software.

For instance, those classic productivity tools – magic marks and construction paper offer a great beginning. A good way of starting young children on the computer and reinforcing their awareness of the keyboard is to help them make a map of the keyboard on a piece of brightly colored construction paper. Outline each row of keys on the keyboard in a different color with magic marker. Then make a guessing game out of finding the keys. Let your child point out the locations of the A key and the B key. You fill in the letters that guess correctly. This works best when near the actual computer keyboard where the kids can check their answers, and you can help point out the locations. When you've filled in the key outlines, post the keyboard map near the computer and be sure to write the lowercase letters next to the capitals. Children just learning the alphabet are often confused at finding only capital letters on the PC keyboard.

Another homemade game that helps with keyboarding skills is to have the kids match letter flashcards with picture flashcards (D for duck, G for girl) and then find the letter on the keyboard. Here again, construction paper and magic marks come in handy. You can make the flashcards instead of buying them. And if you have more than one child, you can turn this into a game-kids enjoy competition. Make a chart to post on the kitchen wall or refrigerator. Use adhesive stars or stickers of animals to reward the child when he or she guesses correctly.

You also can refer storytelling software to creative writing exercises. Start with the verbal by having your child speak stories out loud and then work your way over to the keyboard. Children sometimes stall when asked to type out their thoughts so it's best to prompt them through the story by first asking them questions about it. Prompt your children to describe the scene of the activity, what they saw, what they heard, who did what. and why it was funny. Then sit with them at the keyboard as they enter the tale.

Story-writing software generally lacks a spelling checker so stand by with a dictionary to help your child look up the proper spellings of words. Dictionaries and other paper reference books provide excellent off-keyboard learning opportunities. Keep the stories short, as if they're telling the experience in a letter to Grandma-so children do not get bored.

From the story-writing programs, such as Storybook Weaver, kids can graduate to word processors, such as The Learning Company's The Children's Writing and Publishing Center, which features drawings …