This might be a bit controversial, I’m sure there will be people who dislike the idea of small kids and computer games. My reasoning is that computers are here to stay. They are going to be the main way our children communicate – this is how they will get information and how they will work. So to me teaching them about computers is like teaching them about books and pens.
Obviously I’m not advocating letting them loose – do you really think it’s a good idea to entrust a toddler with a machine worth thousands of dollars? But I do think computer games under supervision and in small doses are a great way of playing with older babies and toddlers, and are good for their language and fine motor skills. We started with my daughter sitting on my lap or on the desk. She would point at the screen where she wanted me to click. Then she started using a mouse on her own, either she would move it and I would click, or I would line it up for her to click. Then she started doing it all for herself. At 3 she’s fully proficient with the mouse, can find her own icons of the things she’s allowed to use, and adores typing and computer drawing using programs like Paint. She can type her own name and with help her sister, Mummy, Daddy, Granny and Poppy. We have not tried to teach her any of this, she has wanted to do it all. It’s probably as much a comment on how much time her parents spend on the computer as anything else.
You don’t need the internet, we’ve also had a lot of fun with very basic text editors and drawing programs, but there are lots of game sites out there. These are just some we have experienced.
Fisher Price Online Learning Games - Obviously a commercial site, but I’ve found the games to be surprisingly good. They use their characters, but if your child doesn’t recognise them, there’s no hard sell. I’m not that fond of the infant games – put it this way, letting a baby hit the keyboard is a recipe for needing a new keyboard, or even a new laptop. However if you have an old keyboard you can plug in for them then let them bash away. They’re basically the same as a jack-in-the-box – hit the button and something pops up.
The toddler games I quite like, there is a bit of a variety. I do find the language in some of them is too advanced and think they’re aimed at 3 or 4 year olds, but my daughter was happy to click on them even when she didn’t understand. And the repetition and form of the language is pretty good – asking the same question over and over. They also have stories you can personalise, another way to read with your child. And they are good pictures that you can talk about as well as use the text. Another great thing is the number of different print outs they have. You can print enough colouring in sheets to last you until school if you really want.
Kiddies Games - Not as slick as the big sites but there are some endearing games here. I found some of the accents a bit hard, but there are simple games for simple concepts such as body parts, colours and left and right. Another good feature is that they work through both keyboard and mouse, so they can be used for ‘let’s have a bash’ or for real attempts to answer. And if you wait they give you the answer, so there is always interaction. Plus some of them don’t correct – if you were supposed to click red but click orange it doesn’t say you’re wrong, it just says ‘Now the baby is dressed in orange.’ These were a big hit with us.
ABC Kids - The ABC is the Australian national broadcaster. Personally I find the site a bit confusing, but that may be because I’m not a kid. My daughter finds all sorts of things here. I’ve found clicking on The Playground (the box type thing) is the least frustrating – you know there will be online games there. If you go to the Games and Activities section some of them only have print outs, which doesn’t go down well with a 2 year old who wants to play. There are a variety of games, using matching, colouring and imagination, plus stories to watch. I think this site is really well done, the controls are really kid friendly so once they can use the mouse they can be quite independent – there’s nothing worse than having to have Mum take over and navigate.
There is also a feature called “Playground Radio” where they (or parents!) can set their own playlists of pretty good songs. This does need a good connection, but there is a downloadable version as well.
And of course there are the commercial sites. Search for just about any TV show or toys aimed at kids and there will be online games. They vary in quality, but we’ve had fun searching for all sorts of things.
As I said, I think it is important to help our kids learn about computers, with supervision. The same way we help them draw, glue, paint and read, it’s another indoor activity to add to your toolkit. Do you have some good sites to add to the list? What are your thoughts on computers and small children?
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