Computer science is all around us through our use of technology: systems, devices, software, etc. Unfortunately, we often take technology for granted and don’t think about it until it doesn’t work or it causes serious headaches.

NewTechKids has compiled these three tips to help parents encourage their children to become more aware of the technology around them to think like technologists in creative ways. By discussing technology on a daily basis, parents can start helping their kids increase their technological literacy, improve their logical thinking and encourage curiosity about how technology and computers work.

Tip #1: Discuss Technology Systems in Everyday Life: Walk around with your child and identify technology systems found in your home, neighbourhood or city at large. Look for Internet connections linked to computers, phones and gaming consoles, smart thermostat systems linked to heaters, door buzzers, etc. Ask questions which trigger kids to think about 1) how the system works in terms of input-output, 2) what its individual parts are and how they work together and 3) how we as humans interact with the technology system.

Take a washing machine as an example. Different parts include the metal frame, the rotating middle which moves the clothes around, some form of simple computer used to control the washer, buttons and timers. Inputs are electricity, water, laundry detergent and of course, dirty clothes. Outputs are signals (beeping sounds, lights), heat, clean clothes and detergent scent. Humans interact with washing machines by filling them with dirty clothes, selecting washing cycles and taking clean clothes out.

Tip #2: Practise Creating Algorithms by Describing Everyday Activities: Programs are algorithms (step-by-step instructions) written in a programming language. Programming tells computers how to process information and data. We use algorithms everyday but we don’t think about them because our brains work so quickly. Slow the thinking process down by asking your child to identify everyday activities and describe them with extremely detailed, step-by-step instructions. For example, describe the steps that go into brushing teeth or making a bowl of cereal. The more detailed and logical the steps, the better.

Tip #3: Re-imagine every day objects by automating them. This idea is inspired by a TED Talk by George Land, a general systems scientist, on the history of human innovation and the importance of practising creativity. Challenge your kids to identify everyday objects and brainstorm how these objects could be automated by programming them. For example, a simple spoon could be programmed to twirl endlessly or make music by tapping against a glass jar.