One of the most important things for new parents is to make sure that their children have the best advantage when it comes to education.
That usually means offering the young child a nurturing environment that includes the sort of educational tools that child needs to foster strong mental development. Some of those tools include toys that encourage problem solving and analytical skills, but in other cases the tools can actually include software that you run on a computer.
At a very young age, children can learn to use a computer. There are reports of toddlers as young as 2 to 3 years old using a computer in a productive and educational way. Sometimes the accessories, like the keyboard or mouse, have to be modified to accommodate the needs of a toddler, but it is more than possible to use the computer as a learning tool, even at that age.
There is one free educational software package called GCompris
, that seeks to train very young children in subject areas like puzzles, using the computer, word and object recognition and even mathematics.
In the Linux version, an amazing 100+ activities are available! In the free Windows version, about 60 activities are included. It is possible to buy a version for Windows with all 100+ activities included for 9 EUR. Many languages are supported.
By offering subject matter at a very basic level that very young children can learn, it will provide your child with the sort of head start that could give them a significant advantage in their future education.
Free Educational Software for Toddlers
Once you install and run GCompris, you'll see a very simple screen with the navigation bar on the left and the main area in the center.
Navigating through the software is very simple for young toddlers. All they have to do is click on each of the icons and larger images will appear in the center pane with a selection of activities. Fun music that kids will love plays in the background on most of the menu screens as well.
To make navigating even easier, when kids hover the mouse over different icons, large text at the bottom tells children the details about that selection. Obviously, kids will need to be old enough to read in order to take advantage of this feature.
The Main Screen
This application includes a very wide assortment of fun activities for kids that are also very educational. These include puzzles, mathematics, letters and words, and much more.
Clicking on the first icon on the left will take kids to the area of the software where they can learn more about how to use computers. Unfortunately, only half of the available activities on the software are actually enabled, so on a number of menus there will be an "X" over the activities that aren't available.
In some areas, not many activities are available. For example, in the menu where kids can learn to use the computer mouse, only one activity is available in the free version.
Learning How to Use the Mouse
The drawing games that kids can play are actually an excellent way to learn how to use the mouse. In one of the drawing activities, toddlers simply have to keep following the blue dot in order to trace out different patterns that eventually form a drawing. Each level gets progressively more difficult, with a larger number of dots to connect.
Mouse Training - Connect the Dots
There are plenty of other areas there are actually many activities available. For example, in the letters and words menu, kids can play a fun game to practice using the computer keyboard. In this game, letters fall out of the sky in front of a cartoon backdrop. Kids need to type the correct letter on the keyboard before the letter hits the bottom of the screen.
Activities for Learning the Keyboard
The puzzle activities that you'll find on Gcompris are a great deal of fun. Especially exciting for most kids is the 3-D maze game, where children must find their way out of a virtual 3-D maze. At the beginning, this just involves going around a few corners. However, as the child progresses through each level, the 3-D maze gets slightly more complicated and challenging.
Puzzles: A 3-D Virtual Maze
This is an excellent way to bring the concept of mazes alive for kids. Unlike tracing a line on a 2-D maze, the 3-D graphical maze brings the highly-analytical activity to life for kids. While searching for the way out of each level, kids won't even realize that they are developing important troubleshooting skills.
Pattern Matching Activities
Other games involve activities related to brain development and IQ. Pattern identification and organization is critical to understanding complex connections as children get older. Some of the simplest games develop those skills - like the crane-game where kids use a cartoon crane to move objects in order to match the pattern displayed on the right side of the screen.
Numbers and Counting
Of course, another critical skill kids will need as they enter into grade school is the ability to not only recognize numbers and to count, but also to add, subtract and do simple math. The number activities on Gcompris are especially useful for children to learn those important skills. About half of the activities are available on the free version of the software.
One of those activities is the number game where kids need to move the green monster to the squares that are equal to the solution at the top of the screen. The goal is to get the monster to eat all of the correct answers on the entire grid.
Simple Math Skills
Again, this is a game that combines background music, sound effects, and graphics in order to make an activity that kids might normally find too "boring", into an activity that they feel is more game-like and fun.
In addition to the higher level math and puzzle activities, there are also plenty of activities on Gcompris that are for younger toddlers. One example of that are the word-picture association activities. These are simple activities where children simply have to connect the correct word with the picture on the right.
Word and Picture Identification
Understanding what to do is very simple, because a narrator explains what the next step involves. For example, in this activity, the narrator tells the child, "Click on the word matching the picture."
Fun Games to Play
Some of the activities at Gcompris are all about having fun, such as the "Connect-Four" game where the child competes with the computer to connect four colors in a row by dropping their token at the top of the screen.
In almost all of the activities, completing one level advances the child to the next level where the complexity of the activity becomes just a little more difficult.
While you may find a few minor bugs in this program, such as timing issues with some of the sounds, or minor navigation problems where you have to click more than once on an icon to get the screen to change, overall the software is relatively well designed and will work well enough for toddlers and young children to enjoy the activities without any problems.
If you're looking for useful software to introduce your young children to the world of computers in an educational way, Gcompris provides an excellent starting point to parents. While it will entertain your children, it will also provide them with an excellent head start to their educational future.
GCompris is written by a French author, Bruno Coudoin.