Teaching the Small Person XHTML

The Small Person has had a computer since she was three and a half, she is pretty good with it and very rarely needs parental technical support. Recently she has been begging me to teach her to “make a web page”. I did hunt around the web and (probably not surprisingly) found nothing that would help a 7 year old to start writing XHTML. So, I have started to write her some basic worksheets, the first of which I gave to her this evening.

The problem with teaching very small people how to create an XHTML document is not the language itself, she soon picked up the fact that things have to have a start tag and an end tag, but it is the fact that she had no point of reference as to how a document should be structured. She looked at me blankly when I explained how to create a level 2 heading, “what’s a level two heading?” Terminology that seems fairly obvious when explained to an adult has no meaning to her, which makes explaining things something of a challenge. She was most excited about the appearance in her browser of things she had typed into the document, so whether she understands or not she is having fun.

Next year the school will start to teach them how to “build a web site”. As far as I can gather this involves giving them some dreadful package that allows them to literally draw a webpage. I have a plan to encourage the Small Person to insist they validate these masterpieces – although we have a little way to go before that! If the way I have explained things to the Small Person seems to work I’ll put these worksheets somewhere in case they are of use to anyone else, however if anyone has any bright ideas for teaching this stuff to very young children I’d love to hear them.


Mike Jones April 24, 2005 Reply

Brilliant! Noah (aged 3) has just started using the trackpad on the laptop that sits on the hatch in our kitchen. I’m worried he’s going to be freaked out by a mouse if we don’t move him to that soon!

Matthew Pennell April 24, 2005 Reply

I would have thought that a 7-year-old would find it reasonably easy to grasp the concept of a tree-structure – perhaps that would be a way to tackle explaining the relative levels of headings (“so this bit of text belongs under this heading – but where does the heading belong? Under the first heading – so we’ll make that a Level 2 heading to show that it is underneath the Level 1 heading.”)

Maybe sketching out a sort of ‘content-only’ DOM would help?

John Oxton April 24, 2005 Reply

This does sound very interesting Joshua, all three years of him, has just started getting the whole website thing and likes to pretend to “work” on my stuff anyway of encouraging this would be great but it is a toughie for sure!

FT April 26, 2005 Reply

Rachel – recently discovered there is a Webmonkey for Kids. Not sure I particularly like the colour scheme (or the jokes…) but it might be worth a quick look.

Is your Small Person into chapter books yet? That’s quite a useful analogy for explaining the semantics of headings – admittedly, it only gives you H1 (for the book) and H2 (for the chapters), but from there on you have a point of reference.



Drew April 26, 2005 Reply

The Webmonkey for Kids stuff seems to be quite well explained, but it’s all old-skool presentational HTML. If starting from scratch in this day and age, it really needs to be CSS and XHTML.

I wonder how she’d get along with XSLT.

Peter Mount April 27, 2005 Reply

Rachel, the Minister in charge of the Children’s Ministy at my church might like copies of those work sheets. That’s if your going to post them online somewhere. Otherwise I’m sure the Web Monkey for Kids site would be good enough (I know it’s not proper xhtml with css but if it gets the little ones interested then there’s no harm).

Mike Jones April 29, 2005 Reply

NO HARM! Thats what they said when they started using the tag…

Peter Mount April 29, 2005 Reply

Sorry Mike. I shouldn’t have put it that way. I have had second thoughts about what I said about it being “no harm” for the young ones learning with old style html. I only said it because I’m not qualified in teaching and I wouldn’t know how to teach a young one how to use xhtml in a way they’d understand. I’d really need some sort of online or printed reference to help me with that.

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