10 Computer Skills Every High School Graduate Should Have
(and therefore why your child doesn’t need a laptop/tablet for school)
I get many questions from parents asking about their kids and technology. Over the past year, I’ve gotten more and more questions about the requirement of tablets and laptops in schools, such as this one that came in this week:
Q: Our children’s school is now requiring that we rent laptops for our kids in grades 3 – 8. Our daughter, entering 5th grade, will be required to bring it to school and home every day. I feel she is too young for this responsibility and I can just see it getting broken. What do you think of this policy?
~Tammy Mom of 2
A: Wow, does this question hit home for me! When my oldest started kindergarten, we were required to buy a laptop for him. While I didn’t have as much issue with the responsibility piece (believe it or not!) even though he was only 5, I took a bigger issue with kids so young being exposed to even more screen time and the possibility of doing exercises/work on a computer that should be done through writing. I’ll address your questions about older kids in a moment but first I’ll discuss my thoughts about younger ones and then address development across the ages as it related to technology. I discuss the effect of media on kids and how to handle this modern parenting issue in the class Kids and Media – Newborn through age 10
First, there is no getting around it, our kids are in and will continue to live and work in a digital world. Computer skills will be necessary for any career. Take me for instance, I run my own company, an online company, so my computer is practically attached to my hip and I feel naked without it!
However, for kids in early elementary, they need to be practicing fine motor skills and learning how to read and write. These things are best done by reading actual books, touching books, and turning the pages of REAL books. Writing can only be done with paper and pencil. If a child has special needs and has limited use of his hands, that’s a different story, but that’s a rare case to be addressed separately. But for the majority of kids K-3. They need to be practicing their writing and that means with paper and pen or pencil, interacting with the real world, practicing social skills and real world problem-solving. Also studies show that people retain more information from a lesson or lecture and score significantly better on tests when they actually write notes, rather than typing them. For more details see the synopsis on the study http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/were-only-human/ink-on-paper-some-notes-on-note-taking.html So a laptop or tablet for a high school student who uses it to take notes, only does a disservice to that student. Pen and pencil, that’s where it’s at! Old school, maybe but still most effective!
There are areas where kids can and do learn well with computers. Math games can be fun and engaging and 10-15 minutes a day is great. But young kids also need to be practicing writing their numbers, building with blocks or using other manipulatives to grow their understanding of math and engineering concepts.
In my son’s school, what I found was that kids who were finishing their work on the faster side were then getting to go play on their computers, many of them on sites I would consider “brain candy” My son did not have access because I clamped his computer down so he only had access to sites that I explicitly gave access. So I had to go to the school administrators and ask them to remove some of the sites from the school internet, as it is not the teacher’s job, nor does she have time to police each child on a laptop while she’s trying to help other children who are need some extra instruction. I would much prefer that my son was sent to read a book in the reading corner, or to build with the blocks or lego, than off to play on his computer (or in our case to watch other since they could get to brain candy sites and he could not.) Not to mention that this type of practice could easily lead to kids rushing through work just to get to the computer games. Not good!
So the questions become how do we and when do we introduce computer to our kids for academics and technology skills that they will need in order to be competitive? At what age should our children have a laptop or tablet for school, if ever? Obviously, this is a long involved question to answer. But to answer it in a very high level way, I don’t feel kids before 2nd grade need to be using any kind of computers in the classroom, let alone a personal one. In 2nd or 3rd grade teaching kids how to type, how to do basic internet research that MUST be coupled with learning safe media/internet practices and both school and parents putting highest level of safety controls in place. This means that schools will need to educate and work with parents, giving them some guidance and instruction about kids and internet safety.
After doing some research, I have pulled together a list of the skills that I feel are important for every high school graduate to have. However these skills should unfold slowly throughout the schooling years. As you look at the list, you will see that none of these skills should require that a child has a personal laptop or tablet, a jump drive to transport between school and home should fulfill the requirements to meet these skills just fine!
Typing (mid elementary)
The reasons for this skill is obvious, so I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining it. But first kids need to learn their letters, their letter sounds and to read and spell proficiently. For instance, here is what my son tried typing in an internet search as a Kindergartener while he was at school – americun civl wor. Now I can figure out what he’s saying but I doubt the internet did! (As a side note, I know this because I have his computer controls set up so I can see what he’s searching on the internet.) By 3rd grade most kids are ready start learning proper keyboarding skills.
Internet Research – start mid elementary
When I say internet research, I don’t just mean searching something on the internet, but also the ability to discern fact from fiction or a valid source from a questionable or downright bad one. Learning good research skills is imperative. I’m sure you’ve seen the emails or shares that go around about any number of urban myths with the sender saying “Can’t hurt!” or “Why not?” Because it makes you look like an idiot. That’s why not.
Starting around 2nd grade we can start teaching kids that the internet has lots of great information and a lot of crap and it’s an important job to learn to discern the difference. As they use the internet for research for reports, you can help your child learn about and find good sources, such as National Geographic or NASA.gov for science reports and talk about why those are reliable sources versus some of the others they may have found.
Word Processing – start mid elementary
As children learn typing skills and are expected to type reports, around 3rd or 4th grade, they will need to begin learning basic word processing such as how to type into a document and format fonts. These skills will build as they grow, so they can learn adding tables, setting up headings, subheading and body text. (I hope they learn that in school because I still don’t know how to do that properly!)
Spreadsheets – late elementary/middle school
Depending on when your child needs these or how sophisticated a user the parent is, kids can start to learn about spreadsheets in 5th or 6th grade. (My husband is awesome at spreadsheets and uses them for almost everything. He’ll have our kids using them early.) But by the time she graduates high school, your child should have a basic understanding of what a spreadsheet is and some of the basic functions. If your child can turn that section into a chart or graph, all the better!
Creating (and delivering) Presentations – late elementary
You (or your child’s teacher) may start introducing presentation software in late elementary. But your child should definitely know how to create a clean organized presentation using computer software by the time he graduates. As far the presentation skills, these are important too. Our son’s school started having kids prepare and give small speeches (3-4 sentences) in kindergarten, getting the kids ready and starting them out slowly with building these skills.
Online Etiquette and Safety (including email and social media) – mid elementary
Oh boy! What can I say? So many people get themselves in trouble with this. For our children who are considered “digital natives” meaning they are growing up with technology rather than it coming into their lives later, they have access to the world through their computers at very early ages. There are lot of huge lessons around online etiquette and safety so I’ll just try to touch on it briefly.
Kids are impulsive. They have not yet developed their full frontal lobe that is in charge of planning, and other higher executive function, which means that they may put things up online that they could later regret or could damage their reputation. (We’ve all seen adults do this!) So we need to teach kids that anything they put out on the internet could be out there forever and could be seen by anyone now or in the future, to a dear relative that they adore, their spiritual leader, a future potential employer or college admissions department. So we need to drive this home as well as teaching them to stop and think before they send or post anything that shows them in less than their best light.
I discuss a lot about this in the two kids and media workshops (one for 10 and under and the other for 10 and over) So there are a lot of lessons around this as well. But we want to teach our kids about not meeting up with anyone they meet online, that not everyone is who they say they are. To never to give out any personal information to anyone online either, related to where you live, go to school, places you frequent, nothing. If someone starts asking these questions, it should be a red flag. Teach your kids to be skeptical, to listen to their instincts. Grown men will post as young boys or girls to start a conversation. Teach them to trust no one online. Always keep computers in open family spaces where you can see what your child is doing. Lock down the home internet and/or computer from accessing questionable content. Make sure you have access to your child’s cell phone and check it, but let your child know this is your protocol when he or she gets the phone. A lot of kids create “fake” accounts for family and then have another account they really use. So you want to make sure you are helping your child make good decisions online. Over time you can check less and less as you see she is acting responsibly. If you are going get spyware put on your home computer, also let your child know and let him know why, for his protection. Never, sneak or spy on your child. This could be disastrous. For more on all of this, see our workshop on Kids and Media 10 & Over.
Computer Care and Upkeep (including file organization and installing applications) – late elementary
Computers are expensive so it’s important to know how to care for them. Kids need to know how to install applications as well as how and why to be wary of installing applications from questionable sources on the web or attachments that come in an email. It’s also good to know how to create folders and ways of organizing files so she can find them later when she needs them, unlike her room!
Calendar – middle or high school
As kids get busier and have more obligations, they can learn about how to use the calendar system and synch it up to their phones.
Database – high school
Teens should know about databases, what they are and how they are used, the difference between looking at data and changing data, and about database security. Your teen should also know about passwords and how to best keep track of and store them safely.
Basic Programming – late elementary
Programming is everywhere. People who can program, and especially if they can program well, have a huge leg up. I know programming may not be for everyone. (Hey, I’m a computer science grad who left that world to work in film and television, so you don’t have to tell me!) But I think every child should be exposed to some basics of programming to see if she finds it of interest. if not, at the very least, having an understanding of what it is and how it works will come in handy in the world ahead where programming is behind everything. So she can ask intelligent questions and be better positioned to work with or hire a programmer when needed and it will.