Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Teach the children (to input) well

My latest project may be one of those foolers that turns out to be far more complicated than one figured at the outset: How to escort a timid six-year-old child into the realm of computers, particularly a girl who has never as much as pressed a letter on a computer keyboard and whose parents's exposure to electronics is limited to dialing a cell phone, watching television and blasting a boombox inside their battered 1998 GMC Jimmy SUV.

The girl is Alondrita, Félix' eldest daughter, who's emerged from a particularly acute case of the Terrible Two's—when she'd react to a friendly gesture with a scowl or a screaming fit and was generally insufferable—and blossomed into a charming, giggly and even flirty girl not afraid to give me a hug whenever we meet.

Ready for her close-up
After two one-hour classes on a notebook computer, mounted on a small drafting desk on wheels, I've found too that halfway to her seventh birthday Alondrita has barely started to read, a challenge that's going to delay any games or other computer derring-do that requires her to recognize on-screen words and commands.

Stew and I have known Alondrita almost since she was born and were quietly worried about her abilities. Despite having only a sixth-grade education, Félix is as smart as anyone I've ever known personally but three of his six siblings, a boy and two girls, are mentally handicapped and illiterate. So Stew and I feared that perhaps Alondrita might have inherited some of those deficient genes.

Not to worry: she readily picks up and remembers information, and during our last class even corrected me when I showed her a picture of white bear that I described as a plain oso. "That's an oso polar," she said. To me, all indications are that she's a smart and delightful kid.

In fact she recognized all the animals in pictures I showed her except for a bat and an iguana, thanks no doubt to Félix keeping his TV tuned in to Animal Planet in Spanish as faithfully as Republicans have theirs locked on  Fox News.

Looking for an "A"
Stew and I also were concerned about the lack of outside stimulation for a girl growing in a one-room house with no indoor plumbing, in a rural Mexican town of five- or six-hundred people. Félix told me recently he's never been to a movie house.

We had noted that many kids younger than Alondrita—albeit whiter and from better economic circumstances—would sit at restaurants and play with their smart phones or computer tablets and ignore all conversation at the table. Even in Mexico computer literacy starts at an early age and apparently so does computer-related rude behavior.

The problem I've noticed is that Alondrita apparently hasn't been taught much. I remember reading and writing quite fluently at her age, though Mexican schools might operate on a different time zone. I'm not a teacher or ever raised any kids either so I hesitate to pass definitive judgment on her progress.

As we head for our third class this weekend in a corner of the garage, with either Félix or his wife standing by like hawks nervously keeping an eye on one of their chicks, we'll type vowels and then try to connect them with consonants to form syllables.

I'm sure that Alondrita will catch on quickly. She's learned the location of many of the letters as well as the Space, Enter and Backspace keys, though for some reason she seems afraid of the mouse. Meanwhile, I'll start prowling the internet for games and other learning aids in Spanish.

Another unexpected challenge, though, is her three-year-old brother Edgar who is stuck in the two-year-old phase and very jealous of all the attention Alondrita is getting. He loiters around the garage during our lessons, pestering the dogs and kicking things around.

I wish the little shit would get over it. 

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6 comments:

  1. I'll check with Matilda, who will turn seven next week and see if she knows programs on the computer that are play games that teach all kinds of things.
    What a great lesson you are giving her. Something she will be able to use her WHOLE life.

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  2. You may want to go to PBSkids.org or nickjr.com or disneyjr.com for a good variety of small games and things for non-readers. I'm not sure that they can be utilized from a Mex ip address as we have HMA and a US IP address. My young grandkids love these free sites. You are giving her a fabulous leg up that will change her life!

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  3. Oh the whole post is so heartwarming and I (as always with your posts) learned so much, was left with so much to ponder, and then I read the last line and just laughed out loud. It made my day. Bless you.

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  4. I've used learningchocolate.com with ESL students.

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  5. The various Leap Frog educational, electronic games are available in Spanish in Mexico. F and I bought one in a Sanborns in Mexico City for his niece.

    Perhaps such a thing would be good for Alondrita's younger brother.

    It's good of you to try to teach her to use the computer. In her generation, it will be a critical skill to have.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we didn't read well at the age of 7, but by 9 were reading several books a week.

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  6. Here is my take. You and Stew need to adopt a new-born baby. What better way to add context to future essays. And it will give me more opportunities to offer helpful hints to your lives.

    You have my best wishes on your open heart.

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