3 easy ways to learn about computers with little ones.

In my opinion, computers are the coolest tools we have to learn, create and solve problems. Think about it we use them every day to help us organise, think, learn, remember, connect us and express our creativity. They have become an extension to our daily life and they are here to stay. 

Helping our kiddos learn about cyber safety, boundaries and the possibilities of computers is one of our newer jobs as a parent and educators.  This blog concentrates on what a computer is so you can start helping them become the awesome creators of their future and not just the consumers of tech.

So let's start with what a computer is and how it works? 

A computer is: 

  • Is a calculating machine (so good it's like magic)
  • An information storer. 
  • A machine that accepts information and turns it into results.

 A computer can: 

  • Store information - photos, video, libraries, list. 
  • Make predictions.
  • Help us to create - art, music and games, robots, write.
  • Entertain us - games, classes, books, peoples ideas. 
  • Connect us - phone, video chat, message. 

Here's a great video by the people at Khan Academy to help you understand what a computer is?

So now that you know what a computer is let's make one with our little ones. All you need is a box and some imagination to create the hard shell that sits around the computer components. I'm not going to tell you how to do that because I know your creative creation will be great. The main thing to make it big enough to hold the 'hardware' components below. 

pretend computer make by kids

1. DIY A PRETEND COMPUTER

You've created your computer's case - beautiful - let's insert some hardware. Below is a list of the main hardware components inside a computer with a free printable attached to each one. Print and decorate each microchip while having conversations about the chips 'special superpowers'.

  • CPU (central processing unit). Its the BRAIN and tells the other parts what to do. You can find a CPU template here.
  • RAM and ROM is the MEMORY and yep, its job is to remember data. You can find your memory Template here.
  • GPU - a graphics chip acts like your EYES. The GPU produces images for us to see on a screen laid out in pixels. Pixels are just small squares of colour layered next to each other and this produces images. Can you imagine how many pixels a GPU lays a second for us to watch YouTube? That why it needs its own processing power. Get your GPU printable here
  • Power Supply - This is like you FOOD you eat to give you energy. It provides external electricity to the computer so the computer can run. Without electricity, it's just a cool box with electronics in it. 

Once they are all snazzy looking glue them into your computer case.  We also made some of our into 3D models. Below is a little video of our conversation of a CPU chip we made.

 

2. READING A GOOD CHILDREN'S BOOK ABOUT COMPUTERS

If you have been on the prowl for a good book about computers then look no further then Linda Liukas book 'Hello Ruby - Journey inside a computer'. Its a story of a bright and sparky girl called Ruby, who take an adventure inside a computer.

Image of a book, Hello Ruby - Journey inside a computer by Linda Liukas.

 This story is an extremely creative and exciting way to see inside a   computer and to start scaffolding computers knowledge. The illustrations in Linda's books as so sublime I love looking and exploring them as I read along. This story is not your typical computers story but is way more fun and perfect for younger children.

You also get the extra benefit of a bunch of cool computer discovery activities that you can do at home or school to help build those computer basics.  Activities like build a computer, name your computer, hardware and software, which one is a computer and computer safari are just some of the activities in this book.    

Hello Ruby's Computer challenge  - DIY make a computer from paper.   

3. RACING CAR TRACK

Ok, so now we have made a computer and we have some understanding of how the computer works. Next, we should take a look at how fast a computer is. After all that the magic of it. The whole reason why computers are so great is that they are fast, I mean REALLY REALLY fast. 

All that processing of information happens in milliseconds. We provide a command, it gets changed to binary, it's stored and sent out as a display, sound or an electrical impulse for action. And even though computers can only do one calculation at a time they do it so fast it seems like they are capable of creation themselves. But alas no, we are the creators. They are the manufactures of our creation.  

It's tricky to talk about how fast a computer is with young kids.  But to toy with the idea, we're going to go car racing. The game below is will set up some beginner algorithm work alongside talk about computational speed. There are also so many great STEM practices involved:

  • Creating an algorithm.
  • Measuring length
  • Following directions
  • Talking about speed and time
  • symbol creation
  • fine motor skills
  • Counting 

The first step to this challenge is to get the children to create their own algorithms using arrows as symbols. Then use masking tape to lay out their algorithms. Followed by a race.  The Items you will need for this game are:

    1. Blank grid template. Print a blank algorithm template here.Blank grid template for algorithm writting
    2. Masking tape.
    3. Pens
    4. Racecar
    5. Timer

 Steps in the game. 

  1. Create an algorithm drawing the directions using arrows.arrow algorithm written by kindergarten kids
  2. Count how many steps there are in your algorithm
  3. Cut equal lengths of masking tape in as many pieces your algorithm has steps
  4. Lay your tape following your algorithm
    • Up arrow = straight sticky tape piece
    • Left arrow = Left sticky tape piece
    • Right arrow = Right sticky tape piece
5. Race your car down the track and time your self. 

    As the children how fast they think a car can go? What is faster than a car, maybe a rocket? What's faster than that! Well, a computer is? It's faster then the fastest car and rocket put together. It's even faster than the flash. 

    You can follow up these games by asking the children how they might make the car faster using their algorithm. One example is by cutting down the code to make it shorter. Another example is by getting a faster car. If you're doing this in a classroom environment you can compare the time it takes for different children to complete their racetrack. Why are the times different? Does someone have a much longer algorithm? Does this mean it takes them much longer to get through their track? Children love healthy competition so this game is perfect for classroom work. 

    All three of these activities help children grow their love and knowledge of computers. I hope you enjoyed this content. Feel free to leave a comment below of the types of areas you would love to learn about with your kids regarding computers. 

     

     

     


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