Terrapin Resources

Meet the Computer

Before the children begin their adventures, you might want them to learn a little bit about computers. This isn’t a technical lecture, so don’t feel that you have to know much about computers yourself in order to introduce them to your children. Here are some ideas to help you get started talking about computers.

First, find out what they already know. Maybe your children have a computer at home or have used one at a friend’s house or at school. One first grader reported that she has her own laptop. You can get some imaginative and often amusing responses to the following ideas:

  1. What is inside a computer?
    • Have the children draw a picture of what they think is inside a computer.
    • Then show them a picture, perhaps from your computer manual, or hunt up some used computer parts to show them.

  2. Is a computer smart?
    • No, it can only follow directions. Have fun giving each other directions to follow. “Simon Says” is a good listening game and can demonstrate how a computer can make decisions about what to do based on what it “hears.” If you hear “Simon says…” then follow the command. If not, then ignore the command.

  3. Think of things a computer can’t do, such as…
    • Find your pencil.
    • Drink a glass of lemonade on a hot day.
    • Pick a flower.
    • Take a ride on a bicycle.
    • Finish your vegetables.
    • Smile.

  4. Think of things a computer can do…
    • Let you draw a picture.
    • Tell you how much your change is at the store.
    • Let you know when you have the right answer.
    • Count to a million.
    • Play games with you.
    • Remember lots of things.

  5. Think of the advantages of using computers. (If people and computers can do the same things, why do we need them?)
    • They are much faster.
    • They don’t make mistakes. (The people who use them might!)
    • They can remember more.
    • They never get tired. (Although they can break down.)

  6. Think of where computers are found. Children will recognize computerized…
    • supermarket cash registers and self-service checkout systems
    • gas pumps with electronic read-outs
    • cell phones
    • calculators
    • digital watches and clocks
    • microwave ovens, and so much more!

The Parts of the Computer

Let’s take a closer look at the parts of a computer.

Your computer consists of four basic parts or components: input, output, processor, and storage. There are many analogies that children can understand that relate the computer’s parts to human parts. The children can develop an awareness of themselves as they learn what makes up a computer.


We need to be able to “talk” to the computer. How do we learn about the world around us? We use our five senses to receive information or “input.” The computers we use have a keyboard for an input device. We can type letters, numbers, and words to communicate with the computer.

The mouse is another way to “talk” to the computer. With the mouse we can point to an icon (a small picture that represents an object) and click the mouse button to take action. We can answer questions by clicking buttons that show the answers we want. We can click to choose an activity from a menu. Although young children may at first have difficulty using a mouse, they will soon learn to maneuver using it easily.


The computer needs to be able to “talk” to us. How do we let others know what we are thinking? We talk, we use facial expressions, and we write. The computer shows us information on the monitor, which is also called a video screen or display. It is an output device as are our voices, face, and the fingers with which we write. A computer’s printer is also an output device.


We have a brain and so does a computer, in a manner of speaking. Its brain is called the CPU or central processing unit. Located in a small chip inside the computer, it follows all the instructions it receives. Unlike our brain, however, it can’t think independently. All the computer can do is add and subtract, compare numbers, and make simple decisions (as we saw in the “Simon Says” game). We have the ability to solve problems, make judgments, and find beauty in music, a poem, or a sunset.


Instructions to the computer can be stored on disks, memory sticks, or CDs for future use. Information is saved on the magnetic material much in the same way that music or speech is recorded on CDs. The hard disk allows information stored on a CD to be copied into the computer’s temporary memory to be used by us. If the computer is turned off, any information that isn’t saved is lost, but the programs and information that are stored there can be used again.

We also have memory. Our temporary or short-term memory allows us to remember a new friend’s phone number just long enough to dial the telephone. Our long-term or permanent memory allows us to remember our own name, address, and phone number. We can also store information on paper and file it away, just as a computer stores and files away information on its hard drive.

Looking at the Keyboard

The computer keyboard is similar to that of a typewriter (although most children these days won’t know about those!). The letter keys are found in the same places on almost all computer keyboards, but some of the less common punctuation marks may be in different locations. In addition, each computer has special function keys that may be used for various purposes.

Keyboard Keys

Let’s look at some keyboard keys and features. As you will see, a key on the computer keyboard may have many different uses, depending on the situation. Don’t be afraid to try them out. You can’t hurt the computer or the Kinderlogo activities by pressing the wrong key at the wrong time.

Numerals vs. Letters

Computers handle numbers and letters in different ways. You and your children will need to pay attention to some letters and numbers that appear similar. For example, the letter O is used only as a letter. If is found to the left of the P on the keyboard. The number 0 is near the end of the row of numbers, near the top of the keyboard. The number 1 is at the left end of the row of numbers. It shouldn’t be confused with the upper case I or a lower case L (l). Some students may think that the upper case I on the keyboard is a lower case L. Make sure that they understand where to find the numbers on the keyboard and where to find the letters.

To help children differentiate between the letter O and zero (0), you could spend some time with them looking through magazines and cutting out numeral 0’s and letter O’s in ads, page numbers, and articles. Sort them by numeral and letter based on context. Then paste them on a piece of poster board as a collage, with all the zeroes on one side and the letter O’s on the other. You can do the same activity with letter l’s and numeral ones.

You might also want to discuss why a computer cares whether you type a zero or a letter O. It doesn’t matter in the least to a typewriter what you type, but you are giving a computer information that it can use later. It can help you correct your spelling, but not if the numeral 1 is in the middle of a word. It knows how to add numbers, but to a computer, adding the letter O to a 3 would be like adding apples and spaghetti!

Enter or Return

The Enter key (Return on some computer keyboards) sends your message to the computer. This key means “do it.”

Kinderlogo commands are set up so that Enter is not often needed. This makes things much simpler and faster for the children. However, there are times when the computer doesn’t know when you are going to be finished typing. You have to tell the computer, “I’m done now!” so that it can do what you commanded.

Sometimes the Enter key can be pressed instead of using the mouse to click on a highlighted button.

If you answer a question, and after waiting a moment, nothing seems to happen, press Enter. The computer may need to be given a little prod to obey!

Space Bar

The long narrow bar along the bottom of the keyboard is the space bar. There are no words on this key to identify it. Kinderlogo activities rarely use this key.


Be aware that on most computers, all the keys repeat automatically when held down for more than a half-second or so. This feature may lead to unexpected results in using some of the Kinderlogo programs. To avoid any potential problems, teach the children to tap the key once for each command. Sometimes children will leave a finger on one key while they are looking for the next one. Have them pay attention to the screen and wait for one command to take effect before giving a new one. If desired, you can turn off key-repeat in your computer’s Settings for the keyboard.

See the Computer Setup Tips page for more details on adjusting the key repeat speed and delay before the key repeat starts.