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Berlitz Summer Camp
by Vivien Santana Hughes
As far as my 6-year-old daughter is concerned, I spend far too much time on the computer. Recently, the tables, er, keyboards were turned as Nikki hounded me to log in. No, the “leave me alone” teen years hadn’t set in yet. What did was a case of the “Puterbugs.” And the folks at Imagine Tomorrow and Discovery Kids hope it’s contagious.
While Nikki loves playing with my iPad, she doesn’t spend much time on the computer, other than a weekly class at school and occasional games. But the Discovery Kids Puterbugs program has grabbed her attention and, in the process, taught her important computer skills like where the letters are on the keyboard, the concept of email, file navigation and Internet safety – all in an entertaining way. (When I asked Nikki what she had learned, she said, “Nothing. I’m just having fun!”).
And that’s exactly the point. “Academics are slipped in and disguised,” shares Puterbugs program founder Julia Patterson, a former teacher, who started out teaching kids tech at her own learning centers 20 years ago. Aimed at kids ages 3 to 8, the 30-minute, animated “missions” automatically adapt to the individual children’s skill levels and, when complete, they earn rewards like designing and powering carnival rides for the Puterbugs to enjoy on their time off.
“We’re teaching the top 100 tech skills that kids need to know,” says Laura St. John, Patterson’s daughter and the company’s chief marketing officer. (A true family affair, Patterson’s daughter Katherine Dunne designed the software and St. John’s husband is the host.)
Laura St. John: Kids are plugged in all the time. Studies show the amount of screen time is staggering. Starting to teach technology at 7 or 8 in schools is, we feel, too late. Starting young is the window of opportunity for learning as their brains making new connect every day. Our goal is to teach kids as young as 2 ½ how to use tech properly, effectively and safely.
Julia Patterson: They need training on how to use it. You’d never give your 17 year old the keys to the car just because he said he knew how to drive.
LSJ: We teach kids how to respect technology through our lessons and, through our Facebook page and blog, we also teach parents how to set up a safe tech routine at home.
Julia, how did you get started with tech?
JP: My husband is very technical and I went with him to computer show in 1991. Everything was geared to the business world. I got so excited when I saw animation and graphics in color – I realized kids would love this. And technology is such a powerful tool for learning. The more I thought about it, the more I saw how technology aligned with my philosophy of high expectations for every child. In my classroom there were no labels. And technology doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t care where you live or the color of your skin, whether you are special needs or in a gifted program. I saw this was a way to reach more children. I had such determination!
LSJ: But people thought she was crazy to leave her tenured position as a teacher!
What’s with the name?
JP: When little kids came to our centers they kept calling it ‘puter’ instead of ‘computer.’ So we named our characters Puterbugs.
LSJ: It’s really funny. There’s no 3 year old that calls a computer a computer!
New missions launch every Sunday. Monthly membership fees range from $4.99 to $7.99 per month, depending on plan. Visit http://www.DiscoveryKids.com/Puterbugs. Interested in teaching the Puterbugs program as a “mamapreneur” or bringing it to your school? Visit http://www.imaginetomorrow.com/entrepreneurinfo
Chat Room columnist Vivien Santana Hughes is a former L.A. Parent editor and the mother of three – one university grad, one in college and (surprise!) a six-year-old daughter. She was the first of her friends to have a home computer when her dad brought home the Tandy TRS-80 in 1978.
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