Saturday, January 12, 2008

Do Children Still Play?

According to reports I've read recently about children's learning development in the digital age many former learning advantages- without technology- may be irreversibly lost. With all the devices children manipulate in a given day it may appear that real intellectual stimulation is almost constant. It can appear that way but one study got my attention recently with an opposing message.
Gloria DeGaetano, founder of the Parent Coaching Inst. in Bellevue, WA work with parents on raising children effectively in the current technological environment. She is suspicious of the videos and electronic games as being insufficient as preschool teaching products.
"There's an important theory in early childhood education called the 'theory of loose parts', which means that children need to manipulate objects in a three-dimensional environment to grow their brain ( s ), " she says.
"These video games and electronic toys are replacing the loose parts that kids need, and it's not the same."
Basically this means that children won't develop their brains to manipulate in the real world. The artificially created (and one dimensional) world of digital interaction is not conducive to the brain learning to create and function in the child's actual environment. My personal belief is that children, by interacting solely with P.C.s and digital devices, will be discouraged in a regular learning environment because it cannot be so easily manipulated or controlled.
There is evidence that respected videos such as Baby Einstein and Baby Genius actually slowed children's language development. Part of the reason for this is the actual interaction. Even if verbal communication is elicited by the software in question, the responses are elementary requiring no deductive reasoning or even sustained thought processes from the child. Progressive learning requires both while all that is required, often, (in video gaming especially) is rapid-fire limited choices at a hectic pace. An educational psychologist, Jane Healey, author of "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds- and What We Can Do About It" , says she is convinced that this hectic pace of 'responses on a sensory level' can be tied to the epidemic increases in the diagnosis of ADD and feels most children should be kept away from computer screens until age 7, after their brains have had time to develop.
Much of the software is very uneven for "mind-building" so getting educated about what's out there is essential if you want to keep your kids brains developing properly. Remember that not all software is created equal- quite the contrary.
A good checklist is as follows:
1. Check to match the rating system to your child's age level.
2. Check to see if the actual content is exposing your child to elements of your choosing.
3. Decide if this is mind-building or simply a waste of time.
4. Is the game, device, MP3 or DL appropriate for your child?

Many gaming devices, such as Wii, are now physically interactive but certainly not to the point of keeping children physically fit. Your biggest challenge for developing a normal life style for your child will be getting them involved in activity which is optimal to keep them healthy and yet intellectually stimulated. If they are not involved in Jr League team sports, they should be but your child will lead the way. Moderate physical activity is the best choice- bicycling, skating, skate or snowboarding are the most popular. Competitive sports for children is so rich in choices that there should be no difficulty in finding exercise that your child will prefer and enjoy.
Whatever the choice- make sure your child gets at least thirty minutes of physical exertion everyday. Don't assume the school they attend is doing their part. Most likely they are not getting sufficient physical activity- there or off-grounds.
Ultimately the parent leads the way in this area. your sports or fitness passions will most likely get their attention and their choices will follow suit. As in everything else, let them decide but don't let them deny this area of development altogether. If you don't insist on some form of physical activity they'll suffer for it, eventually.
Making sure your child has equal amounts of physical and mental stimulation will teach them to live well-rounded lifestyles which will be retained throughout their life. Their physical and mental health will depend on it.
For more help:

The Castle Lady, with dependable kisses !


Rae Pica said...

Evelyn, thanks for this post! I've been a children's physical activity specialist for 28 years and getting children active and giving them opportunities for active, authentic learning are among my missions! In fact, you might be interested in my podcasts devoted to the mind/body connection in kids: Jane Healy is one of the experts I interviewed!

I'd like to make a couple of points. Parents should be aware that competitive sports before the age of 8 aren't considered developmentally appropriate -- and don't provide as much physical activity as they should!

Also, the National Association for Sport & Physical Education recommends 60 minutes of daily structured physical activity and 60 minutes, up to several hours, daily of unstructured physical activity!

And I agree with you that children exposed only to electronics will have a difficult time in a "regular learning environment!"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment Rae. I'm glad that you are actively involved in this endeavor of bringing children more healthy and well-rounded lives. I checked out your web site and I'm going to add that link to this entry because I feel it's a step in the right direction for parents to take notice of the problem.
All the best!
Evelyn Wallace