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Seniors tackle, master basics in Computer Kindergarten

As easy as tying your shoes

Like any kindergarten class, Dave Fender’s students did plenty of cutting and pasting. But instead of blunt scissors and Elmer’s glue, the tools they used were more sophisticated – as were the students.

That’s because this was Computer Kindergarten, offered through the Institute for Extended Learning Seniors Program. IEL provides dozens of classes about everything from Line Dancing to Norse Mythology at various locations around Spokane.

This three-day computer class is designed to introduce novices to the world of Windows, keyboards and mysterious icons. Fender teaches at the Hillyard Center and said he’s instructed students from age 55-90. Older students are often “afraid of the computer,” he said, because they haven’t used one. But according to Fender, “They’re the largest new group of computer users.”

Many Computer Kindergarten graduates go on to take additional classes, like Exploring the Internet or E-Mail Basics. But on the second day of Fender’s class, students were still discovering computer basics and appeared to be making good progress. “I can turn someone around who’s never used a computer,” Fender said. “In just nine hours, I get them up and running.”

However, some students felt as if they were stumbling. “I feel like a slow learner,” said Charlotte Cozzetto with a wry grin. But she was soon copying, pasting and changing font colors like a pro.

“I have a theory about this class,” Fender said. “Read it. Say it. And do it – just like kindergarten.” He offered a steady stream of gentle encouragement as the class learned how to use the mouse to click and drag objects. “There ya go, Fred. Perfect!” said Fender to 84-year-old Fred Shiosaki.

Shiosaki turned to his seatmate and said, “We’re practically geniuses!” And the two men guffawed. “At my age,” Shiosaki quipped, “everything behind my ears has turned to concrete.” But that wasn’t apparent as he quickly grasped several new concepts.

Pat Freeman, manager of the Seniors Program, said taking classes like this offers a way for seniors to keep mentally agile and socially connected. “Our motto is lifelong leisurely learning,” she said. “The program makes a huge difference in the lives of those who participate.”

The students had various reasons for taking the class. Most, like Marge Billin, had a computer at home.

“I use the e-mail,” she said. But she didn’t know the purpose of many of the keyboard symbols. “I didn’t know what these little keys were for,” she said, pointing to the directional arrows. Others, like Jerry and Cheryl Wichterman, were hoping not to have to call their children or grandchildren for assistance so often. “I wanted to understand what we’re doing,” Cheryl said.

Keri Malone took the class because she’s the secretary of her bridge club and thought the skills would help her execute her duties. “I know practically nothing about computers,” she said. “It’s (the class) been extremely helpful.”

After a short break the class prepared for an adventure. “We’re going to the Internet, everybody,” said Fender. A soft murmur of oohs and aahs rippled through the room. Ever mindful of the generation he instructs, Fender reminded the class, “The enter key is just like your carriage return.”

The laughter and satisfied sighs that echoed through the room revealed that learning, at any age, can still be fun. Shiosaki pondered what he’ll do with his newfound knowledge. With a twinkle in his brown eyes, he said, “I’ll go play games or something.”

Freeman said, “I know from experience, people live longer, healthier, more satisfied lives when they participate in these classes.” She stressed today’s seniors aren’t idle. “They’re not hanging around playing bingo. They are active and involved.”

As the evening class drew to a close, Marge Billin already had plans for the night. She said, “I’m going to go home and practice.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at