"Daddy, look at these!" exclaims six-year-old Holly Whatron, eyes widening to drink in a roomful of what look like TV screens attached to typewriters but are really Atari-800 computers which the manufacturer donated to the Future Center of the Capital Children's Museum.
"I don't know anything about computers either," confesses Holly's father. "But my partner and I are thinking of putting one in our office, so in a way this class is for me."
The class is called Compu-Tots, and it's an introduction to the never-never land of computers for kids ages four to seven and their parents. It's one of several computer courses offered to
LOST GOLD -- Through September 13 at the National Geographic Society, 15th and M Streets NW. Monday through Friday, 9 to 6; Saturdays and holidays, 9 to 5; Sundays, 10 to 5. various age groups by the museum.
Teacher Betty Lou Berenter begins with the basics, asking the group just what is a computer, anyway?
"It's like a robot," pipes up six-year-old Elliot Blanchard. "It can . . . like memorize things."
People can use the computer's memory to play games, solve math problems, play music and draw pictures, Berenter tells them.
"Also, you might go to the doctor and he might not know exactly what's wrong with you," she continues. "He could put the things that don't feel right into a computer, and the computer could tell him what was wrong with you."
The kids, however, are more interested in games than in symptoms and, after typing their names and doing a few basic addition problems, they're pitting their skills against the computers in such contests as "Beans," "Function" and "Lemonade Stand." "Beans" is a computer version of "guess how many there are in the jar," and a little girl and her mother get it on the second try.
"This time let's just guess, let's not count them," suggests the child, giving the computer a fighting chance.
The game called "Function" is a bit more difficult, as six-year-old Timmy MacKinnon finds out. At the computer's behest, Timmy selects a number on the keyboard to go into an infernal, computer-drawn machine. When it comes out of the machine, it's a different number. Timmy's 5 comes out as a 9; his 3 comes out as a 7, and his 4 comes out as an 8. The computer asks Timmy to figure out what the machine is doing by predicting what will happen to a 6.
"How do you make a 9 out of a 5?" prompts his mother.
Timmy, who has just finished kindergarten, is momentarily at a loss, but when his mother gets a pencil and paper and draws one row of five sticks and another row of nine sticks, something clicks.
"It's 4!" he announces with a broad smile.
Holly's father is reading the instructions for "Lemonade Stand," which appear in bright yellow on the screen.
"You run a lemonade stand, and it costs money to make the lemonade and to advertise it. On Day 1, your assets are $2 and the cost per glass is 2 cents.How many glasses do you want to make?" he reads.
"Let's do 50," says Holly, in a swift entrepreneurial decision.
As the computer helps Holly and her father unravel the mysteries of supply-side economics, Elliot is using his computer to draw multi-colored designs that turn out something like Oriental rugs. Using a special attachment, he selects a motif -- such as quads -- and manipulates a stylus. When he presses a key that says "design," the computer fills in the empty spaces with Elliot's pattern.
Holly, meanwhile, has left the lemonade business and is playing the "Function" game, trying to figure out the pattern that turns 4s into 8s and 3s into 6s. What, the computer asks her, will the 9 become?
Holly studies the pattern for a long time, then types in "18."
"Hooray, yippee, you got it!" the machine types back.
Holly's father does what no computer can do -- yet. He gives her a big hug. .