Children and Computers

Ganga on the Mac

These are a set of informal observations made while watching my little niece Ganga (she’s about 4 years old) draw a picture on the computer.

  1. Kids pick up the basics really fast. Having walked my mom and DP through many a confusing day, I noticed that teaching Ganga is not as slow, but different. For e.g. she didn’t understand that the thing you point and click is called a ‘mouse’, but the motor skills that go with it came very quickly.
  2. She liked to draw and move windows around much more than the online games I found for her. This may be because those games are largely singing and dancing stuff in english, or she might be too young (because frankly I found those games really interesting. Vaibhav and Gauri too when they came here).
  3. The paint application I used is Seashore. It’s a Mac-only minimal port of GIMP. I use it for editing only because it’s much faster than opening up Photoshop or GIMP on a Mac and it gets simple editing done quickly. However, there are three things that I realized a “kid paint” tool must have:
    1. A subset of features: a pen, brush, color selection, an eraser, easy undo.
    2. Much bigger and lifelike icons. A pen for a pen, a brush for a brush. Avoid a dotted rectangle for selection.
    3. Individual colors put up there on the screen instead of a two-step process to click the foreground color, bring up the window, select the color and then close it. She took a long time to get this step right.
    4. A quick way to clear the paper (her terminology) and to get a new one. She spent eons rubbing the eraser all over a finished work to get a clear paper and I had to intervene to click File -> New. Menus are beyond her at this point.
  4. Instant gratification. At one point where she clicked on many items in the dock and the mouse cursor turned into a spinwheel (the mac hourglass) and she couldn’t click anymore, she was really irritated.
  5. She was fascinated by the fact that you could click and drag windows everywhere on the screen. Add to it my multi-monitor set up and this made for her second-best computer adventure.
  6. This is what a 3 hour intro to a computer produces:

The whole incident made me really curious about kids & computers. How do you introduce programming for example? Squeak? _why has something called hacketyhack as well. I’ll be keeping an eye on this in the future coz watching kids use computers is really interesting because of the way they instinctively search for new features.

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