Computers form a vital part of your children’s education and development, so it’s only natural to want to ensure they have access to the right tools for learning in the new school year. You may also be concerned about their security, privacy and safety online. In this feature, we’ll show you some simple practical steps that will let your child’s computing experience be educational, entertaining and – above all – safe.
It’s important to be aware of the potential dangers your child might face while using a computer. These include your child accessing inappropriate websites or seeing upsetting material online. They may also come across hostility or bullying on social networks or come into contact with net predators, although cyberbullying from peers is a much more common problem. Start by ensuring that the PC itself is secure. Follow our guides to updating Windows and choosing the right security in the form of anti-virus , anti-spyware and firewall protection. An insecure PC compromises your child’s privacy and risks identity theft.
With the basic security in place, it’s time to use Windows’ own tools to ensure that your child is safe online. First, open the User Accounts Control Panel and create a separate standard user account for each of your children. Password-protect the main administrator account so that only you have access.
Windows Parental Controls enable you to limit the games your child can play by their age rating.
Once you’ve done this, enable Windows Parental Controls. Windows 8 users will be able to set up Family Safety settings by typing parental into the Search charm, but Windows 7 users should do the following: click Start and select Control panel. Open User Accounts and Family Safety, then click Set Up Parental Controls For Any User. Provide your administrator account password if prompted.
Now choose the account to which you want to apply controls. Select On and Enforce Current Settings. Here, you have a number of options. Use Time Limits to set the times during which your children can use the computer, or select Games followed by Set Game Ratings to limit their access to certain games according to their age ratings. Not all games are given ratings, so you can also block access to all unrated games for additional protection.
Stop your child spending too long on the PC by applying time limits.
Finally, click Allow and block specific programs to specify exactly which programs your child can use, allowing you to prevent them from accessing the internet without supervision. Simply select the programs you’re happy for your child to use and click OK.
Web filters allow you to block websites based on content, ensuring your children avoid pornographic, violent and other unsuitable sites. You’ll need to add an additional program to get this functionality. There are various options available, but the easiest to apply is probably Windows Live Family Safety. This comes as part of Windows Live Essentials and enables you to set web filtering and other controls across a number of computers. You can relax the level of control as your child gets older.
Don't underestimate the value of supervision. Sit with your child as they study or locate their computer in a public place so you can keep an eye on them without having to babysit. Gauge how responsibly your child uses their PC and adjust your supervision and support accordingly.
Use Windows Live Family Safety to set up web filtering to keep your child safe online.
Essentials tools of the trade
Having dealt with safety and security, it's time to consider the tools that your child will need for educational use. One of the most important applications you’ll need is an office suite providing a word processor , spreadsheet and presentation program. In most cases, Microsoft Office is the default choice at school, so it makes sense to put that on your PC. Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Student is perfect for the job and won’t break the bank. It’s a three-user license, so you can also use it on your PC.
Microsoft Office Home and Student contains all the core functionality you need, and can be installed on up to three PCs.
You’ll find considerable student discounts are also available on heavyweight applications such as Corel Draw and Photoshop Elements. Check the PC World website for all the latest student deals.
The classic excuse ‘My dog ate my homework’ has pretty much become obsolete. These days, you’re more likely to hear ‘My computer crashed’ or ‘I lost my flash drive’. Make sure that your child can't pull a fast one by ensuring that you have a sensible backup strategy in place so that nothing can go missing from your PC for long. For more conscientious students, a good backup regime can ensure that they don't suffer the heartache of lost coursework. See our guide to backing up your computer for more details.
With the basics in place, you can begin shopping around for other useful educational software that may help your child at whatever level he or she is studying. There's a wealth of programs available from the GSP Pre School Educational Software Pack, which supports number recognition and building vocabulary to Letts GCSE Chemistry, which helps as a revision aid for pupils in years 10 and 11. There are loads of educational titles in between, so why not browse a wide selection to find the title that offers the best support for your children’s needs? It may be worth having a brief chat with their class teacher or form tutor to find out how you can best support your child.