Tools for the Self-Taught Technology Student

Tools for the Self-Taught Technology Student

Providing children with access to technology prepares youngsters for educational opportunities and equips young people for advancement in our computer driven society.

by: Annette M. Hall

Technology plays an important part of our world. Though many articles have been published regarding the harmful effects technology can have on our children, we certainly can't deny that computer technology has become far more widespread than anyone could have imagined, even 20-years-ago. It was once thought that computers were just a passing fancy but we now know that this could not be further from the truth. Computers today are used for everything from cars to washing machines and so much more.

As parents we have an opportunity to help our children prepare for their future, while having fun with technology too. Those who know and understand how these gadgets and gizmo's function early on in life will be ahead of the learning curve and be in the best position to use technological advances to their fullest potential.

Computer History — We've Come A Long Way

My first computer was an Intel 8088, which did not contain a harddrive. It makes me giggle now to think of all the hours I would spend playing with "Basic," writing code, which would turn my keyboard into a musical instrument, only to lose it all when I turned off the machine. That was before I discovered that it was possible to save programs to a cassette tape recorder. Now that's technology.

In those days home computers were very expensive considering they were little more than fancy word processors, which the majority of home users used for writing letters.

You can just imagine the excitement of "getting online" way back then, at 300 baud it would take a minimum of at least 10-minutes to connect to a local BBS (Bulletin Board Service). At that time only the government had access to the "Internet" (ARPANET in that form). The information highway was nothing more than fantasy — a pipe dream in someone's imagination.

In those days, most computer enthusiasts used the Computer Shopper Magazine to locate area BBS's to connect with. Once connected a user could learn of even more BBS's serving their local area (we certainly didn't want to run up our telephone bill with long-distance charges). In most cases these BBS's were ran out of people's homes and many were shut down with little or no notice at all. Phone numbers changed often, which could lead to a tremendous amount of frustration, yet the novelty of it made early computer users thirsty for more.

Learn More About Computer History

Technology Today

Contrastingly, children today have grown up with technology and can't begin to imagine a world without it. So called experts warn us about the dangers of exposing young children to harmful online elements, violent computer games and the social problems children can have when their world revolves around online friends, rather than maintaining personal relationships with their peers.

How can we, as parents safely encourage our children to learn technology and use it as a learning tool, yet remain unharmed by it? Unfortunately, there are no easy asnwers. Even the experts are divided on the issue. This question remains unanswered and will likely never have a conclusive solution.

Parents as is usually the case are the key. As parents the responsibility falls on us to know our children and set limits for them. Limits that will help them get the most of their computer time; yet remain unharmed by the long-term effects of violent games and online predators.

Our children are individuals, each with their own set of quirks and challenges. As parents we must rise to the challenge of knowing our child and learn how to best facilitate their educational experience.

Educational Research

Several years ago I had read that television, particularly shows that displayed fast-action, rapid-fire events, could be harmful to children and actually be a cause of ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder).

Of course this concerned me, as it would any parent. I noticed my son seemed to display some ADD/ADHD tendencies, so my husband and I decided to limit our sons exposure to television when he was quite young. We limited his viewing to shows like Kipper, which was a very docile children's program geared toward preschoolers. We hoped it would have a calming affect on him and I believe it did. At the same time shows like Sesame Street were a no-no because of the fast changing scenes and intense nature of the program, despite begin promoted as a positive educational program.

Though we were aware of studies, which seemingly had "proven" a connection between early television viewing and ADD, the results were anything but conclusive; our uncertainty remained. In one study released in the April 2004 issue of Pediatrics, we find cause for concern:

The research team, headed by Dr. Dimitri Christakis, indicates that for every hour of television children watch each day, their risk of developing attentional problems later increases by 10%. For example, if a child watches 3 hours of television each day, they would be 30% more likely to develop attention deficit disorder. Dr. Christakis attributes this to the rapidly changing scenes on television and the affect these have on a developing brain.

According to Dr. Christakis, "TV can cause the developing mind to experience unnatural levels of stimulation." He indicates that children who become used to the high level of stimulation on television are not able to slow their pace to match the pace of schoolwork and homework. According to the researchers, there is no safe level of television watching.

Study Finds Link Between Television Viewing
and Attention Problems in Children

This is just one example of conflicting data on the effects of television, there are just as many concerning the use of cell phones, computers and just about any device invented in the past 20-years; including microwave ovens. As parents we are left to use our own common sense to navigate the minefields and pray that we have enough wisdom to protect our children.

Moderation is Key to Health

If I've learned one thing in my over half a century on earth, it's that moderation is the key to most of our troubles. After all, one candy bar won't do you much harm but eat an entire box and I think we can agree you'd be heading for trouble. A constant diet, which consists of only chocolate and the road is paved for a life of obesity and chronic health problems. The same can be said for just about anything, including technology. Our mind and bodies require a variety of stimulation in order to maintain a healthy body and a healthy mind.

If your son or daughter spends hours and hours on the cell phone talking with friends, please consider purchasing a headset for him or her. While an occasional chat over the cellular waves in all likelihood won't cause any long-term damage, extended exposure could very well lead to some serious complications. Common sense tells us it can't be good for us.

While I'm relatively certain that extended exposure to violent computer games can't have a positive impact on a child. It's doubtful an occasional game will cause lasting harm, depending on the child. This is where trusting your instincts and knowing your own child comes into play.

While we didn't prevent my young son from watching the television, we were selective in what we allowed him to watch. He has a compulsive nature; he likes to collect things and became totally obsessed with Blue's Clues when he was around three. We indulged him but knowing this about his very nature, helped us to make better decisions regarding what he was exposed to early on in his development.

Alternatives to Television

To enable us to further limit the harmful effects of television, without him feeling deprived, we put technology to use and allowed him to begin creating his own video's at the tender age of four. While he had trouble sitting for any length of time and was not the type of child who enjoyed doing any sort of "seat work", we found that if we set up the video camera in the living room, connected to the television, he would perform for hours on end.

The video camera had many "special effects" features, such as a pixilation function, a half mirror effect, and others, which would allow him to create unique video sequences much to his delight. These were later edited and put on videotape for his viewing pleasure. He enjoys watching his performances on video even now.

Self-Taught Technology

Our son is now 9-years-old and has begun writing his own primative scripts, he's learning how to do video editing on his computer, using the latest software programs. He can even manipulate photos in Photoshop with a proficiency that amazes me. These are skills he has self-taught because we provided the tools and gave him a taste of what he could accomplish and then turned him loose. We are here to provide guidance and ideas but in the end, he is only limited by his own imagination.

Of course he enjoys playing video games and I find that allowing him to play uninterrupted for days at a time has been good for him. We have encouraged him to finish what he starts and there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with "beating" a challenging game. On the occasion when he would display extreme frustration, the game would be ended until such time as he could regain his composure. I would also like to note that he doesn't stay fixated on video games exclusively as I had feared. By allowing him to finish the games he starts, he does move on to other things, sometimes of his own accord and sometimes with encouragement.

Technology is an important tool but it must be viewed as just that, a tool. Used properly computer technology can help a child express his creativity, expand his reading skills, teach problem solving techniques and increase a child's communication skills.

If you have a child who is interested more in the computer than he is in doing math worksheets, you might consider gently encouraging him or her to explore his options. The more this type of child can do technologically speaking, the more he or she will want to know and experience, creating a desire to learn more.

I've known children and grown-up adults who would spend hours and hours playing video games, in fact my child tried to go this route. This is not healthy for anyone. There is nothing wrong with spending a few days playing a game, learning the strategy and trying to accomplish your mission, but a steady diet of this can be harmful.

I believe that if the talents of video addicts are redirected into more productive activities, they will find a way to tap into their own creativity and learn to use those very same skills to enhance their own educational experience and thus take these skills with them when they leave the family nest.

Take it One Step Further

It is common for children to learn to play a musical instrument, as a parent you can not only encourage your child to practice more but also take it a step further. Has your child expressed an interest in writing musical scores? What about enhancing your child's musical skills with computer editing?

Basic CAD programs are fairly inexpensive. If you have a daughter who loves to play with dollhouses, why not provide her with the tools to design her own, complete with furniture, color schemes — designed to scale?

Bob the Builder has become quite popular these days. The popular show comes on video, cassette, DVD and computer games on CD ROM disks. Children — especially young boys — tend to love big trucks. Have you pointed out the buildings in your community to your child? Help them make the connection between Bob the Builder and those beautiful old churches, school and others that some creative person designed and built. After your child makes the connection, you can begin to introduce them to architecture.

There are many wonderful websites on architecture. Why not have your child download some of the pictures they find of beautiful buildings and create their own collage for their bedroom wall?

When we received a new digital camera for Christmas last year, we gave our old one to our son. He enjoyed going around town with me taking pictures, which he could then add to his computer collection. He uses them on his own private website and uses Photoshop to manipulate the photo's to create unique designs.

While you may think a digital camera is an expensive "toy," in reality it has been a worthwhile investment. It is much cheaper than constantly paying to have film developed, it provides instant results and it has taught my son to see things he normally would not have noticed about the world around him. While some of his compositions have been a little odd, the camera has provided hours of enjoyment for the family and some very photo compositions.

As parents we can help our children use technology to its fullest potential and assist our young people in seeing the world through different eyes. Once you get started the sky is the limit. You will be totally amazed at the creativity that lies within your own children, given the tools and the opportunity to learn and grow.

Need help getting started? Private lessons and/or assistance with programming, web design, security issues and more is available either in person, online or telephone. His resume is ancient but still accurate: Call Shawn.

Learning is a lifelong adventure and technology can be a thoughtful part of it.

Download Free Graphics Programs

The above programs have been downloaded and used by the editors and were safe to use at the time of this posting.

Updated March 27, 2016