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Introducing Your Child to the Computer: Online Games and Learning

In this networked age, computer literacy is essential. Parents can start to teach computer skills to their toddlers and preschoolers by supervising them in short sessions. Internet safety is any parent's paramount concern, but there are plenty of safe websites where families can find learning resources. Interactive, online play is a great way to bolster skills in both computer use and fundamental subjects. Using the mouse to control the onscreen cursor can help to develop young children's hand-eye coordination. Web pages and many games can help kids with pre-reading skills such as letter and number recognition, while Web games can introduce memory skills and spatial concepts like "over" and "under."

Here are some tips for helping your child get the most from her early learning activities on the computer.

Preview a game or site before sitting down with your child. Don't assume that a website or online game is appropriate just because its name sounds okay. Take the time to give it a spin yourself, before turning the controls over to your child. If you find that a particular game doesn't quite match up with what you're looking for, just move on to the next one.

Talk about what your child is seeing and doing. It's not enough to be nearby in case your child stumbles upon something objectionable, or to count on filtering software to do the job. You should be a participant, asking your child what she's doing, offering encouragement, and making it quality time.

Encourage exploration. As an adult, you will immediately grasp the goal and the challenge of a game, but your child probably won't. Resist the urge to step in and give instruction. Instead, encourage your child to explore the game at her own pace. Give help if asked, but keep the emphasis on teaching your child to figure things out for herself.

Let your child set the pace. This isn't the time to worry about how quickly or slowly your child is grasping a concept. What's important is making sure that your child is engaged, asking questions, and taking the time to figure things out. The process is what matters, not the result.

Limit online time. You're looking to let your child wade in slowly, not dive into the deep end. A child's early learning should encompass a wide variety of experiences, of which the computer is but one part. Fifteen minutes to half an hour should be more than enough for one session.

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