Introducing My 5-year Old to Computers Using a Raspberry Pi

My 5-year-old told me last night,

I'm five now, so I should have a 'puter.

So we got started with a Raspberry Pi. She had so many problems getting started that I hadn't anticipated, and since I was so shocked by these, I wanted to write down the things I learned from giving our first "computer lesson."

Kids at this age can't control a high-sensitivity mouse.

Turn the sensitivity way down.

Maybe giant, bright screens aren't great right before bed.

They aren't good for my sleep, so why would they be for hers?

Jamming on the keyboard is fun, but pointless.

It's probably something they'll want to do (because they sees you do it all the time!), but it's potentially destructive (it is possible to type some junk that messes up your intended work together), and at the very least mashing the keyboard doesn't work toward some better goal. Next time I'll better resist the urge to let her do that.

Practice with your tech setup

This really goes for any technical presentation or training, but check your software and hardware setup and make sure it's as rock solid as you can make it before you start. Murphy's Law still applies, but maybe you'll avoid some lag time at the outset. My biggest mistake was not even digging through storage boxes to dig out my Raspberry Pis before we started. As a result, we first plugged in the Raspberry Pi B because it was the only one I could find in my frantic search. But it didn't work. Haven't investigated why. Then the Raspberry Pi 2 I subsequently dug out was set up as an Arch Pi box with no X display, and it had a password I couldn't remember. By the time we got the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B that I finally found, I wasted valuable attention on stuff that probably only confused her. I should've just gotten the stuff out and set it up once ahead of time to practice.

Set expectations for computer usage rules and time limits early

I should've set limits around computer usage from the first moment. In general, explaining expectations and setting limits for her early and in a direct manner helps her deal with them, but I didn't do that this time. While things turned out OK, I realized today that she thought she could use the computer whenever she wanted, and even without me. We have strict rules around screen time, but up till now that has only applied to television time, since she hadn't used a computer before.

Practice getting into their naive mindset

It is, again, astonishing how little she knows about computers. It shouldn't be, but I don't spend much time teaching anymore, and I have to work harder to imagine/remember what it was like not to know, for instance, what a mouse is. We operate at such a high level compared to her, and while I've taught in the past and know this is part of good teaching, I had a lot of trouble changing my expectations and really meeting where she was rather than where I expected her to be. For instance, I had set a goal for her to double click an icon on the desktop (to myself - I didn't tell her I expected her to be able to do this) as the big action in our ~hour of time together, but I had completely overlooked the fact that she didn't even know the mouse has two buttons (right and left clicking), or that the scroll wheel isn't always useful, or that moving the mouse forward on the desk moves it up on the screen. When I asked her to move her cursor to a location on the screen, she began picking up the mouse from the desk to move it up to the screen. I have a lot to learn.


In the end, we mostly practiced mouse usage after plugging in the cords. I wouldn't trade it for anything.