Deciding when to introduce your little one to computers is a decision that falls to every parent or family on a case-by-case basis, but as pre-school educator Dawn Cunningham tells Tom's Hardware in 2018, "By the age of 4/5 most children have the fine motor skills to manipulate a mouse."
From here to about the age of 7 or 8 – again, depending on the individual child – kids often begin to learn the basics of computing. But for developing children, learning to communicate about their interactions can be nearly as crucial as the interactions themselves. Rather than jumping in with graphical user interfaces, DOS Protected Mode Interfaces and complex programming languages (pun intended), start with some fundamental tech terms to build a strong foundation for your kids.
Computer Definitions for Students: Hardware
Among the most basic of computer definitions for students – whether at school or at home – is the meaning of "computer" itself. While children learning about computers can likely already point to one, they need to know that a computer is a device that calculates and stores data and can be given instructions by a human.
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An easy way to get a tot to remember the definition of "keyboard" is to tell them that it's just a board full of "keys" (the little buttons on which numbers, letters and symbols are written). While you're there, remind them that "home row" is where your fingers naturally rest when typing on a keyboard properly – the keys are "ASDF" and "JKL;." "Mouse" should be an easy one, as this pointing device that you use with your hand looks like the body of a cute little creature (usually). Similarly, a "touchscreen" is just a screen that you touch to interact with a computer or gadget.
A "monitor" is the electronic panel that the computer uses to show us images and data, but it's OK if you just call it a "screen." There's not much need to get too deep into internals this early on, but it might help to know that a "hard drive" is where a computer stores data and a "CPU" or "central processing unit" does the majority of the actual computing, basically acting as the computer's brain.
Computer Definitions for Students: Software
Teach your kids that the parts of the computer you can actually reach out and physically touch are known as "hardware" while programs, apps and games that appear on screen – which aren't actually hard objects – are known as "software."
Kids are smart and perceptive, so they might notice that the images on computer screens look pretty different from one another. Let them know that this might be a difference in "operating systems," which is the basic software included on a computer that holds all the other software and lets us interact with it. While programs are the tools that let us perform certain tasks – like browse the internet or play a game – various types of "files" are used to store data like pictures, written documents and songs on our computers.
Computer Definitions for Students: Internet
Send a test message to demonstrate what an "email" is and let your child know that this is a sort of message you can send to someone over the internet. The "internet," of course, is the enormous network that connects computers (and phones, video game systems and so on) to each other around the world. When we open a "browser" – which is a type of "software," "program" or "app" – we can see and share, or "browse" if you will, things on the internet. "Social networks" are sites and apps that people use to share parts of their lives with each other and stay connected and "Wi-Fi" is a type of internet connection we access through invisible radio waves.
Think of these definitions as a springboard and remember to cater your syllabus of computer terms to each child's experience whenever possible.