Computer Basics for Kids: What to Teach and Why?
Tech is all around us. From computers to smartphones, digital advertisements, and game stations, tech seems present in almost all aspects of modern life. Kids today are so-called digital natives, growing up with technology around them. In fact, most kids will not remember a time when computers and tech did not dominate our world. Alongside dance, sports, and band practice, it is important for children to learn how to use computers to remain competitive in a world that seems to introduce new tech products daily.
Why teach children about computers?
Learning about computers is no longer an option — it is necessary to keep up with our modern way of living. Here are some more reasons why computer classes for kids are beneficial.
1. To become digitally literate
Digital literacy helps kids become fluent in using the internet, social media, and other tech, which is now integrated into our modern-day society. Although it does not mean that children should know everything there is to know about computers, they should at least have basic skills to help them survive in a tech-heavy world.
As children grow into adults, they will have to handle an increasing amount of life admin online. As such, becoming digitally literate at a young age will help them thrive in later life. Unlike older generations of so-called digital immigrants, kids have the added benefit of growing up in a tech-based environment, making becoming digitally literate more manageable.
2. To prepare them for school
Chromebooks and other tech devices are being introduced into schools from very young ages, so basic computer skills are required for children to keep up in class. Computers, tablets, and other tech devices are not just exclusively used in computer science or IT classes, meaning kids should be able to grasp technology from the get-go. In fact, 79% of US teachers in a recent survey said that students are able to achieve more by using technology, emphasizing its importance in contemporary classrooms.
3. To create online safety
Social media and other technology are not inherently bad, but they can be dangerous and leave kids exposed to predators if they are unaware of how to protect themselves. Teaching children about the dangers of the internet, cyberbullying, and mental health issues arising from technology may help them identify and overcome such situations before it is too late. Additionally, computer classes for kids can help them become more self-disciplined, understand healthy amounts of tech usage, and be aware of the downsides of tech addiction.
4. To foster cognitive development
Problem-solving skills are an important factor in cognitive development. Interactive computer activities or learning coding skills through games like Minecraft can help cultivate strong cognitive skills. Moreover, computers also nurture creative and critical thinking and allow children to express themselves through music, drawing, or coding applications.
5. To prepare them for future tech-based careers
Currently, over 92% of jobs require computer skills and digital literacy, which may increase as we become increasingly reliant on tech. Encouraging early exposure to computers through coding or computer science classes can spark a passion for tech-related career choices in later life. Moreover, allowing children to dismantle and analyze computer parts can also help shape future careers. In short, a child’s first laptop experience could be the first step toward a promising career in tech.
At what age should children start using computers?
There is some discussion about which age children should start using computers. It can seem like a catch-22 — starting too early risks tech addiction but starting too late risks missing out on cultivating important skills in their early years. The US Government Office of Education Technology recommends that screen time should be avoided for children under two years old, reminding us that technology should not be used for the sake of it. However, this age group may benefit from actively using technology, such as chiming in on video calls to talk with relatives.
Children aged between two and five should have limited screen time to no more than an hour per day. This includes tech usage at home and in educational settings. Similarly, children aged six and above should have no more than two hours of screen time daily.
The specific age at which a child is ready to start using a computer will vary depending on the child's individual development and interest. It also depends on the type of screen time and the conditions under which it is used. Screen time that is more like a stand-in babysitter may be convenient for parents but unstimulating for the child, whereas educationally beneficial apps could complement real-world interactions. Generally speaking, kids above six years old can begin using the internet, allowing them to explore and become young content creators. At this age, children will also start using the internet for school and homework.
Computer basics: what to teach?
Jumping straight to coding or computer science classes may be too overwhelming for children of a young age. So, what are the most suitable basic computer skills to teach kids?
1. Basic computer operations
How does a computer work? How can we safely switch a computer off and on? Although they may be second nature now, we all had to learn these things in the past. Children are no different, and it is crucial to explain basics, like why a computer should be safely shut down instead of simply pulling the plug out. Additionally, this would be a good time to teach children how to use a keyboard and mouse, including left, right, and double clicks, and how to launch applications. It may also be possible to teach them the fundamentals of file management.
2. Internet skills
Once kids have grasped the basics, they can start to learn how to use search engines to find answers to specific search terms. They can also learn about online communication tools like email, investigating how to effectively open, read, and reply to emails. It is also possible to teach them how to use social media at this point.
Just like real-life safety talks include learning how to cross the road and not to talk to strangers, children should also be taught how to use the internet wisely. They should be educated about potential online dangers such as predators, cyberbullying, and sharing personal information. Kids should also learn how to recognize unsafe websites and the importance of strong and unique passwords.
Introducing kids to basic programming concepts through games like Minecraft Education is a great way to stimulate young minds in an exciting way. It encourages collaboration with peers and a creative approach to learning, cultivating communication skills. There are hundreds of classroom-friendly games available to supplement classes and help kids boost their confidence in coding.
5. Hardware basics
Aside from learning coding to communicate with computers, it is also crucial to teach kids about the primary components of a computer. Knowing what CPU, RAM, and hard drives do and how they interact forms an understanding of how computers work and may ignite an interest in a future tech-related career.
Kids are digital natives and have the advantage of growing up in a tech-dominant environment. As such, they should learn computer basics at a young age to give them a competitive advantage at school and in their future careers. Learning about computers helps cognitive development by encouraging creative and problem-solving skills and can benefit them in all areas of life. By teaching children about the dangers of the internet, they can be aware of potential risks and learn how to protect themselves. Moreover, learning to code through applications like Minecraft encourages communication with peers and helps them develop a creative flair. As long as the content they are exposed to is age-appropriate, teaching kids basic computer skills helps pave the way to understanding how technology works.
Jeni is a translator and writer based in Taiwan. She is passionate about business development and loves helping companies enter international markets. She is fluent in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, and combines these with her industry experience to provide practical market entry solutions.