Unraveling the mysteries of the computer age for children

Americans are entering the computer age - ready or not. Elementary school children are being introduced to computers in the classroom, and the focus is not on Pac-Man. Students in Grades 1 to 3 are being taught the Logo language, and as early as second grade programming in Basic is begun. Computer literacy lessons are mixed with hands-on computer experiences.

Most parents are watching with open mouths and a quiet fear that sooner or later the children will look to them for help. Many have some form of personal computer in their homes, but plead ''no time'' when children challenge them to become involved.

Since this isn't a fad that will pass before our children realize our ignorance, it's a good time to educate ourselves, as well as them, in the new and exciting field of computers. Here are some books to help:

A Dictionary of Computer Words, by Robert W. Bly. Wayne, Pa.: Banbury Books Inc. (37 West Avenue, 19087). 151 pp. $3.95 (paperback).

Have your kids been saying such things as, ''I've been working for hours to debug my program, but I always end up in a closed loop.'' Or, ''Grauches make me so mad!'' Worse yet, have they asked you what a daisy wheel or a cursor is? If so, you'll find Robert Bly's ''A Dictionary of Computer Words'' an invaluable ''illustrated introduction to Technical Terminology, Baffling Buzz Words, Mysterious Jargon, and Puzzling Paraphernalia.'' Suitable for Grade 3 to adult.

Computers for Kids, by Sally Greenwood Larsen. Morristown, N.J.: Creative Computing Press (PO Box 789-M, 07960). 73 pp. $4.95 (paperback).

This excellent introduction to computers is available in editions for the TRS-80, Apple, or Atari. It could be used at any age level with parental help or independently starting at Grade 3. Practical and basic computer features and procedures are outlined in a simple, clear format. Topics include what a computer is, flow-charting, running the computer, saving your programs with a cassette recorder or disk drive, and many more. There is a section for parents and teachers at the back. If you own a computer, you'll enjoy and understand it much better after using this book.

Katie and the Computer, by Fred D'Ignazio, illustrated by Stan Gilliam. Morristown, N.J.: Creative Computing Press. (PO Box 789-M, 07960). Unnumbered pages. $6.95.

Katie goes for a magical computer adventure in this delightful storybook. She meets the Colonel, who escorts her through Cybernia, the world inside the computer. They visit the Land of ROM, stop at the CPU, and fly to RAM Tower to get to the Flower Painter's house. The result of their efforts is a display of a flower on the computer screen. The various levels of meaning which can be applied to the story make this book appropriate for older kids as well as enjoyable for seven-year-olds. P.S. Beware of the Bug!

It's Basic - The ABCs of Computer Programming, by Shelley Lipson. Illustrated by Janice Stapleton. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 44 pp. $8.95.

The title says it all: Short, precise descriptions of computers, programming, and the functions of a computer lead into chapters on actual statements used in simple programming. PRINT, LET, GOTO, INPUT, and IF/THEN statements are described and examples given. If the reader has a computer nearby on which to try the examples, this will add to the enjoyment of the book.

Ronald's Dumb Computer, by Robert W. Bly. Wayne, Pa.: Miles Standish Press Inc. (37 West Avenue, 19087). 77 pp. $3.95 (paperback).

Suggested by the author for Grades 6 to 9, this whimsical adventure could easily be appreciated by some children as young as third grade. Computer knowledge is imparted through a story of two teen-agers and a robot (RUR) they find at the dump. Students and adults alike will enjoy this low-key approach to the computer's complexities.

The Star Wars Question and Answer Book About Computers, by Fred D'Ignazio. Illustrated by Ken Barr. New York: Random House. 61 pp. $4.95 (paperback).

The question-and-answer format of this colorfully illustrated book makes it appealing to young children. The ''Star Wars'' theme and the amount of information make it appropriate for older elementary students. Descriptions are clear and concise. Parents will find this an interesting book to share with their children. Sections include: What is a Computer? The World Inside the Computer, Modern Computers - Giants and Dwarfs, Teaching a Computer to Play a Game, and Computer-Controlled Robots.

First Look Book No. 1 Computers: Sizes, Shapes and Flavors, by J.M. Johnston. Wayne, Pa.: Banbury Books Inc. (37 West Avenue, 19087). 75 pp. $2.95 (paperback).

This is an engaging presentation describing some uses of computers as well as a beginning discussion of their workings. It will hold the attention of students in Grades 4 to 6. Its ''interactive'' (two-way communication with the computer) style keeps the reader thinking and involved. Adults will also appreciate the information the book offers. Two other books are available in this series (''First Look Book Nos. 2 and 3) which can be used in a series or independently.

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