Learning to use Office Applications

Standard office applications are a good place to start to teach our children that a computer is used for productive purposes. When we expose our children to these programmes we are giving them years of experience and familiarity and even though programmes and technology changes very quickly, we are establishing an understanding of how technology works and is used in every day life.

This page is to introduce you to the 5 main office applications and how you can find use for them in your family. If you need to find lesson plans for these areas I suggest that you do a Google Search such as, “word processor in the classroom” or “spreadsheet in the classroom” and you will come up with some tutorials to help you teach your family.

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Word Processor
Desktop publishing
Presentation Software

Word Processor

One of the first programmes a child can understand and use with real life purpose is a word processor. I teach my children typing as soon as they are reading. Though I still require them to use the pen/pencil in their early writing using a keyboard is a great motivator as kids love being able to use a computer!

In a family context a word processor can be used to type letters/newsletters, lists, charts, routines, and in the homeschooling arena you can type lesson plans, schedules, reports and the kids can record what they are learning.

One of the first tools within the word processing programme that my children enjoyed was Draw. Joshua would draw trains and cricket pitches! He would do this using simple shapes and lines, and filling them in with colour. His skill far out stepped my skill in this area and some of the benefits I observed as he played around with this draw option were:

  • Drawing is with the click of a mouse so it developed his hand-eye co-ordination.
  • As he was given the freedom to explore the word processing programme he learnt to click and discover what was available. I didn’t show him this draw facility – he discovered it (as he also discovered formatting text, spell check and tables). Having a safe environment to explore (this one programme) gave him a mindset that you have to explore when learning a new computer programme, and you won’t hurt anything! (This is a learning curve many mums struggle with but so necessary when taking on new technology!)
  • He also learnt to draw cricket pitches and trains!! We may not see any benefit of this initially but since he was really young at this stage he was learning about shapes and that our world is made up of shapes. This is an early mathematical concept!

Another word processing tool that helped my children’s learning was the spell/grammar check. I have taken the Charlotte Mason approach to grammar – learn it as you use it approach. I allowed the children to have the spell/grammar check on (you are able to turn this on and off) on the proviso that when the computer told them they had misspelt a word, they would consider it and try and change it for themselves before they looked at the options. Not only did this correct spelling weaknesses it also enhanced their self-editing skills.

In this day and age where everything has to have a visual appeal using the computer to present their school/written work gives them plenty of practice to advance their eye for details and balance and skills in presenting information. A Word processor gives you the options of inserting tables, graphics, photographs and to play around with fonts and page layouts. As our children become competitent typists they used these tools to create simple but pleasing to the eye Notebook pages, family newsletters, invitations to parties and books from the stories they wrote.

Desktop Publishing

In the real world people get books, magazines, brochures, flyers etc printed at commercial printers. Before anything gets printed, the words, grahics and photographs need to be arranged so that each page is pleasing to the eye and truly does communicate the necessary message. This was traditionally called ‘typesetting’ but nowadays it is under the broad idea of desktop publishing. And the best thing of all is that anyone can do it!

You may not want to send your child’s latest story to the commercial printers but your child will experience the same feelings as a published author if they can see their work in printed form.

  • Grandparents love to receive books written by their grandchildren.
  • Family Christmas Newsletters can be designed by our children
  • Garage sales and birthday party announcements can be made with a professional look.

Understanding the publishing processes, for either business or personal communication, has been an integral part of our children’s writing lessons. If they can use this process it gives them a purpose, a real life purpose for their writing.

Many of the aspects of desktop publishing, at least in the beginning stages, can be done on the Word Processor but the extended options for graphics and photographs will always be both enjoyed and a challenge to the children.

Presentation Software

Once again, in real life, people make presentations for a variety of reasons and if they have a visual (and sometimes audio) prop then the message is received much better. Our children can learn, need to learn, how to make these visual presentations.

Most simply stated presentations are a glorified slide show created on the computer – but the skill comes in putting the right information, using the right colours, and creating the right visual balance on each of your slides.

My children learnt Powerpoint by creating little stories for their young brother. Their first production was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – it had moving stars and diamonds flashing, and best of all – a soundtrack of a clapping audience at the end. They loved it. Professionally speaking it was incredibly tacky but it is the stuff family memories are made of!

Another family has their 5yo drawing pictures using Paint programme and then the older siblings insert these into PowerPoint, making a slide show of all his computer drawings. The 5yo just loves showing his work to his friends and all who come visiting!

Another fun aspect is adding audio to your presentations – background music or even your own voice. This of course introduces a whole new aspect of technology but it is doable (and you can use free download software). Kids love this type of activity. Show them the basics and see what they can come up with.

Powerpoints true value goes much further than nursery rhymes and artwork displays though. Making such presentations is a real life skill, one that our children will need to know. Using a presentation programme for some of their school driven writing not only creates variety for their writing but gives them plenty of practice in making visual presentations.

To create good presentations you need to

  • clarify your topics / content
  • choose how to best visually present your information – a map, chart, text, audio
  • use graphics and animations wisely – just because you have the technology doesn’t mean you have to use it!

An offshoot of this is that many churches use powerpoint, or similar programmes, to run their visuals – words to songs, announcements, bible readings etc. Not only do our children need to know how to create these presentations but to be able to run the equipment as well is a valuable life skill that will give them the opportunity to serve the body of Christ.

Spreadsheet Programme

A spreadsheet is primarily used to collect and analyse data and its major benefit is that it allows you to do automatic calculations and manipulations of that data. In a family lifestyle it can be used for budgets, project planning, recording rainfall etc.

Although a spreadsheet is designed for mathematical applications I enjoy using it for tables – using lots of words, and very little numbers. This is a personal preference and I mention it only to encourage you to explore around and find applications for your family.

Database Programme

A database holds data, information, records. A programme, such as Microsoft Access, holds this electronically, which means you have a greater ability to manipulate and use that information. The primary use that comes to mind, especially within a family is an address/mailing list (say for the yearly family newsletter) and for a inventory of books, dvds and cds.

Live life with your kids!

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