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What Five-Year-Olds
Can Do with Computers


By Susan Brooks

What can five-year-olds do with a computer? A lot, says school technology facilitator Susan Brooks. Discover what computer skills kindergartners should learn -- and what activities you can use to teach them -- in this column by a 30-year veteran of kindergarten and technology classrooms. Included: Links to dozens of age-specific activities and lesson ideas!


"What can 5-year-olds do with a computer? They're too little; too uncoordinated; and they don't know how to read!" Those are the remarks I heard when I first presented a workshop for kindergarten teachers. Afterwards, I heard, "Kindergartners can do amazing things with computers!" "I didn't know there was so much out there for 5-year-olds." "I didn't think a 5-year-old could use a mouse!"

As co-founder of Internet4classrooms, a free online resource for K-12 teachers, and as a veteran of more than 30 years in kindergarten and technology classrooms, I believe that kindergartners can learn whatever you teach them. To help early childhood educators discover their students' potential in technology, I created Kindergarten+, a page of Web links exclusively for kindergartners and their educators.


Learn More!

Ready to use technology in your PreK-2 classroom? Learn from the successes and struggles of other educators by taking a look at these Education World articles about technology in early childhood:
* Tots and Technology: Tips and Cautions for PreK-2 Technology Use
* Using Paint Tools in PreK-1 Classrooms
Teching Wisely in K-2 Classrooms
* Technology, Teachers, and Tiny Tots- A Great Combination!
* Computer Resources for Primary Grades

Kindergartners need specific skills to use a computer -- the same skills a beginning 5th-grader would learn: The first skill is the ability to click the mouse once while controlling its placement. Sites such as Kinderweb allow students to practice a curriculum skill while learning to control the mouse. The objects to be clicked are large, so mouse placement can be practiced successfully. When students can complete the activity quickly -- usually after several two or three minute practices -- you know the skill has been mastered and the student is ready to move on to the next skill.

Drag and drop is another skill that might take some time to achieve successfully. The first site I use is Spatial Concepts. The objects there also are large, and students can practice clicking, holding down the button, and maneuvering the object with the mouse. After students are proficient, they can go to a smaller target. Birds offers smaller items to select, demanding greater mouse control. Some students might need to practice at the site for a while before moving on to other activities that require mouse skills. Check out Kindergarten Literacy and Math for more links to activities for building crucial mouse skills.

After spending many 5-minute sessions practicing mouse skills, students move on to keyboarding skills. Now, don't get excited! Five-year-olds probably can't use the correct fingers, but they can learn where the letters are on the keyboard, and they can learn use just their thumbs for the space bar, which aligns their hands in the right areas for the natural progression of keyboarding skills. Kindergarten Literacy and Math also provides links to sites where students can work on that skill.

Another technique to help students learn to get around easily on the computer is to include computer words on the word wall. There's no law that says computer words can't be part of your word walls. Even most young students come to the computer knowing the words shift, enter, back (short for backspace), and delete. As time goes on, they learn the words file, save, and print as well.

An easy way for novice technology teachers to get kindergartners started is by using Literacy Center. By including activities that require one click, click and drag, or use of the keyboard, the site lets students practice letters, numbers, and shapes along with their computer skills. Teachers can select both the content and the computer skill at the same time.

By the end of the year, your students will be creating PowerPoint presentations on curricular content! The slide below, for example, was created as part of a transportation unit.


So, what computer skills should kindergartners learn in the course of the school year? They should learn how to:

  • Click once on the left side of the mouse.
  • Drag and drop.
  • Identify the space bar, enter key, shift key, backspace, delete key, and arrows.
  • Use the arrows to move around on a page.
  • Use the spacebar to move down a page.
  • Use the scroll bar to move down or up a page.

As the year progresses, kindergartners also should:

  • Recognize and use the words file, save, and print.
  • Know where the most common letters used on the keyboard are.
  • Become competent at double-clicking.

What activities can you do with kindergartners to practice these skills? During the first semester, have students complete one or more of the following activities:

  • Draw curriculum-based pictures in Microsoft Paint (or another drawing program) and "box" them for copying later in the year.
  • Type with Microsoft Word their names, words they can sound out, and story endings using inventive spelling.
  • Use the font-coloring feature in Word to identify color words. ("Change the color of the word 'red' to red.")
  • Visit Web sites to practice basic skills in counting, phonics, and letter recognition.

During the second semester, kindergarten students should be able to:

  • Use Word to write, and Paint or KidPix to illustrate, original stories or a terrific Mother's Day card!
  • Use Excel to create graphs. Students use tally marks as they create data, and then type the totals into their graphs.
  • Use PowerPoint to make whole class presentations about curriculum topics.

Kindergartners can use computers in the classroom -- and experience success using technology tools to learn their curriculum. Don't let size fool you. Look at the first computers; they were huge. Now, they're tiny little things that can do a lot -- just like 5-year-olds!

Photos courtesy of Susan Brooks.

About the Author

Susan Brooks is technology facilitator and infusion lab specialist at Hickory Ridge Elementary in Memphis, Tennessee. Brooks has been an educator since 1971; first as a kindergarten teacher, then as a school technology coordinator. In her current position, she holds staff development sessions for teachers in the use of technology integration and applications; and she models integration in classrooms. Brooks also teaches after-school technology classes at the Teaching and Learning Academy, the professional development facility for Memphis City Schools, and works with pre-service teachers at a local university. As co-founder of Internet4Classrooms


Article by Lorrie Jackson
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