Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative Choices

Minecraft is taking over our house, as seems to be the case in many houses around the country, and indeed the world. If you're not familiar with it, this is a computer/video game in which players survive and create in a world that may be best described as an infinite quantity of Lego-like bricks of various kinds. There are lots of ways to play, toys inspired by the game, videos where you can watch people play, every imaginable way to interact with the game. And of course there are the fights about who is going to play, how, and for how long. Yesterday one child graciously gave up his spot in the rotation in order to end a fight, so he got to play today as a reward, and he spent much of yesterday and today with a pen and paper, mapping out what he was going to create in this virtual world. He has recently become very interested in Egyptian history, so he wanted to create a pyramid devoted to Thoth, the god of writing. This meant hours of research into what would have been contained in a pyramid and what materials would be available to builders (real-life and Minecraft), followed by consultation and drawing, as well as using another computer program that essentially lets users create Minecraft blueprints. Yes, this company has turned civil engineering into a video game, and kids can't wait to play. And parents all over the globe are trying to figure out how to maneuver their way through this new screen time minefield that is part video game, part 21st-century education.

What they learned:
Hopefully they learned that patience is rewarded, since they all nearly lost the game for several days as a result of the fights, but instead they got more game time as a reward for compromise. But incredibly, they also learned ancient history, drawing skills, drafting, engineering, map-making, and game design. They also learned to support one another's endeavors, as the children who were not actively playing watched and cheered on the one who was doing the actual creation.

What I learned:
Technology is tricky. I suppose that like pacifiers with babies, you have to make sure that it's not being used in place of something more important. And I do still make sure that kids go outside and run around and interact with humans. But the lines between games and education are getting more and more blurry, and things that look like video games to adults might actually be teaching marketable skills to today's youth. I don't want children to spend all their time in front of any kind of screen, because that can't be any better for their eyes and brains and bodies than it is for the adults who are doing it for a living. But I also don't want to unfairly criticize their use of a tool that is actually encouraging creativity and digital skills and social cooperation. I think this is an issue that will require a lot of thought and work from all the adults working with children these days, but I got a good reminder that it's not just about limiting screen time; it's about remembering what they need to learn and how we can best use all the tools we have.

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