Most children become fascinated with computers at an early age, so here’s our guide to making your pre-schooler and your PC the best of friends
You might think your child is years from being glued to her computer screen, but then you notice her making a beeline for your PC mouse or tapping on your keyboard when your back's turned. Don't panic, letting your toddler loose on your computer can be incredibly beneficial to her development.
Using a computer allows children to follow their own lead with interests, and is a great way for hobbies to develop. "It can help develop hand-eye coordination, build confidence and prepare them for education," explains Nicole Taylor, author of PCs for Peewees. "My son was 2 when I introduced him to the computer. His hand-eye coordination is second to none and his spelling is brilliant as he uses the computer to see the results of words he's typing."
"Like with most things, toddlers will show interest in something as soon as they can physically grab it," explains Nicole. "It also depends on how often parents or siblings are using the computer, how much toddlers see it in use and if it's in a familiar and friendly setting. It's about following your child's lead."Children will instinctively know when they can do certain things," she adds. "For example, between 12 and 18 months, toddlers might be starting to press keys down on keyboards, and from age 2 they have the ability to easily use the computer's mouse. But each child is different and you'll see what your toddler is comfortable with and what she can and wants to do."
Many child-specific programmes are suitable for children from 6 months. Go for CD Roms or websites packed with colours, shapes and movements to keep your tot interested. Nicole recommends Jump Ahead CD Roms, and check out Fisher-Price for interactive games. For really young children, play music through Windows Media Player on your PC with the background graphics and visuals playing alongside the track.
Help your toddler gain more confidence on the computer by moving the mouse arrow to where it needs to be and then letting her click down. Or invest in an oversized mouse to make it easier for little hands to cope. Try taking turns doing things on the computer with her. Children love to copy adults and this will also teach her about sharing.
Before you let your little one anywhere near your computer, make sure all your files are backed up on a separate hard drive in case any clicking gets out of control. "Its helpful to make your child her own profile on the computer so there's no worry of her being on yours and deleting or moving files and documents," suggests Nicole. To do this, go to 'control panel' on your PC, under the 'start' tab. Click onto 'add or remove user accounts' and follow the on-screen instructions.
Make sure she takes a break from the computer every 20 minutes, and work with the principle that the younger the child, the shorter the session. It's also a good idea to get your tot into the habit of moving her eyes away from the screen every 5-10 minutes for about 15 seconds. This helps her to refocus and rest her eye muscles. Remind her about breaks and give her warning when they're coming. The same applies with posture and sitting up properly.
As long as you have content filters and virus protection in place, there's no reason why toddlers can't have a go at using the net. All the latest versions of Internet Explorer come with a pop-up blocker as standard, which stops adverts and links to websites opening without you clicking for them and will help keep innocent eyes away from nasty screens. Firewalls (internet security systems) can be downloaded for free and will block any sites that are harmful to your computer. It's also a good idea to set your internet homepage to the website of a favourite character or TV programme so she sees something familiar and friendly when she first logs on.
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