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Introducing Your Child to the Computer Mouse

 

Babies old enough to have a storybook read to them technically are old enough to "watch" the computer.

Though introducing the computer to a child of such a young age is unnecessary, and for some babies uninteresting, many parents find it a fun activity to share with their little ones.

By the time a child reaches toddler-age, and certainly by the preschool years, families with computers will find their kids clamoring for a turn! It is not hugely difficult to "use" a computer, especially with the many easy-to-use software titles available for kids today. As such, there shouldn't be any pressure to get your child on the computer before preschool. However, children with older siblings might be putting the pressure on their parents!

Helping a young child to learn to use the mouse successfully has become a lot easier in the past few years thanks to well-designed software and hardware currently available. Software designed specifically for toddlers started hitting the shelves in 1997, and baby software soon followed. The fact is, there is quite a market for these products.

I introduced my youngest child to the computer right around her first birthday. Reader Rabbit Toddler was her first software and she loved it! I started off by sitting her in my lap and playing the game myself, talking about what I was doing the whole time. I emphasized how I needed to move the mouse to go to favorite activities. Then I started to ask her how to, for example, play with shapes. She motioned to the mouse -- an important first step, as she recognized the need to do something with the mouse in order to activate her favorite activity. Of course she got tired of watching me play, and ended up grabbing the mouse herself. By 13 months old, she was able to play the game and use the mouse deliberately, and shortly after had graduated to the next stage of software.

Software designed for babies and toddlers generally feature a keyboard option. Random taps on the keyboard will bring forth onscreen reactions (for example, a shape will fall into place in a puzzle, a splat of color will appear on a coloring template, and so forth). While kids will enjoy getting such immediate results, I recommend bypassing this step altogether unless a child is clearly frustrated and daunted by mouse use, yet still is determined to "play" with the computer. This method teaches cause and effect, and not much more.

In a previous article, we gave some suggestions on how to help a child get accustomed to the mouse. It bears repeating that the mouse pointer speed should be adjusted so that it is slowed down. Default mouse settings are simply too fast for a novice "mouser". Patience is also necessary, and parental involvement essential. Playing the games with your child in your lap and talking through every step will hasten and smooth the whole process.

Swiping Skills

While a child can easily learn how to click the mouse, moving it deliberately across the screen is more difficult. Making the connection between moving the mouse in a certain direction and the cursor moving the same way across the screen is an important, if challenging, step to mouse mastery.

Software

disneymickeytodsm.jpg (21071 bytes)There are a few programs that greatly assist young children with this task. While Fisher Price Ready for School: Toddler Level 1 allows a child to click anywhere on the screen to get a reaction (not much more significant than the keyboard option), titles like Reader Rabbit Toddler and JumpStart Toddlers require a child to move the mouse to a desired spot and hold it there.

A newer computer game that is unique for introducing children not only to the computer mouse, but also provides a good orientation toward using the computer in general, is Shelly's My First Computer Game by ABT. Young children explore an interactive storybook, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and are rewarded when they click and double-click the mouse.

A wonderful toddler program that is probably the easiest to use of the whole lot is Disney's Mickey Mouse Toddler. Not only is this program educational and fun, rollover "mousing" brings great rewards. Navigation is not confusing at all. This title is exceptionally designed! Now available in an economical bundle, Disney Learning Toddler, for the price of one software program, families receive Mickey Mouse Toddler as well as Disney's Winnie the Pooh Toddler and a Rolie Polie Olie program (the latter title is inappropriate for toddlers).

Coloring a scene is an excellent exercise for developing swiping skills. In Reader Rabbit Toddler, there are coloring activities in which a child swipes the mouse and a trail of color follows them for immediate results! Other activities provide errorless experiences as children experiment with the mouse and gain confidence in their new-found skills.

jstoddlers2000sm3.gif (15863 bytes)JumpStart Advanced Toddlers is nothing like the original JumpStart Toddlers. Though it is bright and features click-free activities, it is best used once a child has gained some experience with the mouse. Some of the activities require more advanced thinking skills as well, making this title a perfect intermediate toddler software choice.

Some good baby software picks include Reader Rabbit Playtime with Baby and Sesame Street Baby. Both titles are fun to use as "lapware". The only problem with Sesame Street Baby is that it doesn't easily grow with a child. Once mouse skills are mastered, navigation is difficult for kids who are ready to use the software independently of their parents. Otherwise, it features vivid graphics and wonderful activities that are divided into keyboard and mouse games.

Titles designed for young children that are not effective in terms of actually teaching mouse skills include JumpStart Baby with Baby Ball, Sesame Street Toddlers, and The Land Before Time Toddler Time. 

Hardware

Trackballs are available (such as Microsoft Easy Ball), and some parents swear by them! In my own experience, I have found they are an unnecessary step. Learning to use a mouse is much more practical!

littlemouse.jpg (12264 bytes)On the other hand, a newer product line called the Little Mouse series by Secret Seven is truly useful. These products are identical to a regular mouse, only scaled down to a child's hand size! The company's Tiny Mouse is roughly half the size of a regular mouse, and is recommended for children up to age 5. It sports a wheel that can be pressed when a child needs to double-click (a difficult task for most kids). A slightly bigger mouse for kids ages 6-9 is the Little Mouse. The buttons are larger for maximum customization to different hand sizes. Both types of mouse have color-coded left and right buttons, making it easier for children to understand the idea of right-clicking and left-clicking. (Kids will more easily grasp the concept of red and blue as opposed to left and right). USB connectors are available for newer computers, allowing both an adult mouse and one of these child-sized ones to be connected and functional at the same time. Included with each mouse is a software diskette that allows for further mouse customization. (The Tiny Mouse is available here: E-Book TINY MOUSE USB ( TM-USB )).

 

Are all of these products designed for the youngest of computer users really necessary? Probably not! However, they do make life a little easier for children anxious to enter the magical and often educational world of computer software.

 

 

 

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