When my twins were three, my stance on video games and iPhone apps was pretty extreme: not allowed. I wasn’t anti-technology; I just felt that 3-year-olds would benefit infinitely more from doing things in the real world rather than on a video screen. I wanted to make sure they could use actual crayons and markers before they had a virtual palette at their fingertips. I wanted them to be able to kick a ball across the yard before they tossed them across video fields with a controller. I also saw no need to introduce them to the world of video games when we’d just barely introduced Candy Land.
The kids’ 3-year-old friends who were adept at using their mother’s iPhones didn’t impress me. If anything, they cemented my resolution that my phone is not a toy, and I was not going to be commanded to hand it over every time Allie and Nick felt bored. At that time, I hadn’t made the switch to the iPhone, so there was no real temptation anyway to hand my phone over for anything other than looking at pictures.
My anti-video game stance continued as my twins went from preschool to kindergarten. I still felt that they had so much to discover in the real world, anything less than hands-on interaction seemed like a waste of time. Watching my friends’ older children ignore everything and everyone while hunched over a DS or some other gaming device didn’t make me want to run out and buy a couple for my kids either.
But while I shunned video games, it wasn’t like I was raising little Amish people. I was well aware of the value of being computer-savvy in today’s society, so I was careful to keep what I considered an age-appropriate amount of technology available to them. My kids had Fisher Price laptops, toy cell phones, and plenty of interactive Leap Frog toys. They were as comfortable Skyping with our British relatives on my laptop as they were asking ”Can you Google that?” when I didn’t know the answer to one of their many questions. They didn’t know how to play Angry Birds or work an iPhone, but computers and modern technology were nothing new for them.
When Allie and Nick were five, my parents bought them an iPad for Christmas. I was reluctant to introduce it to them at first. While I’d read a few articles that said video games could have positive effects on children, I wasn’t completely convinced. Memories of my Tetris addiction and the hours I wasted in high school perfecting the jab/punch sequence need to knock out Mike Tyson made me wince with regret. I didn’t want antisocial children who buried their heads in a gaming device, and I didn’t want couch potatoes who’d rather play football on a DS than in the backyard.
But at the same time, I’d heard great things about the iPad so I decided to start slowly, purchasing an app called ”Montessori Number Board.” It’s possibly the most boring ”game” you could play””putting tiles numbered 1 to 100 in order on the screen””but I liked it because it was educational and the kids thought it was amazing because they hadn’t seen anything like it before.
While the kids played the Number Board game, I jumped into the big wide world of kid apps to do some research. I was incredibly impressed with what I found, and I bought ”Teach Me Kindergarten” and ”Mathmateer,” (then known as ”Rocket Math.”) Nick and Allie went crazy over both apps, and for a long time, that was all we had. Mathmateer was particularly impressive, because its combination of math questions and rocket building had my son doing multiplication in the first grade and asking me to teach him division. It was such a great app that I downloaded three others by the same designer, Dan Russell-Pinson: Monster Physics, Stack the States and Presidents vs. Aliens. They’re all pretty great at combining learning and playing, and my kids still love them.
When my twins were in first grade, Nick’s teacher told me she thought he would love Minecraft because he loves to build. You can’t beat a teacher’s recommendation, so I spent the $11 to download it, and was surprised to see that it looked more primitive than PacMan. I didn’t think my kids would like it, but sure enough they both loved it. Soon they were digging caves and basements, building cabins with secret rooms, hanging artwork and making flower gardens.
Both kids quickly became Minecraft addicts, and when it got to the point that they were arguing over it and ignoring me when I told them to turn it off, I ”deleted” the app (read: hid it in a folder) and made them quit their addiction cold turkey.
But then I saw that our local arts center has a kid’s class that focuses on Minecraft, and I read an article by Nick Bilton in The New York Times about how the app is both an obsession and an educational tool being used by teachers and parents around the world to teach everything from science to city planning. Well. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Reading about all the benefits that can come from Minecraft spurred me to drag it back out for my kids. I watched them play together, discussing, planning and allocating tasks according to each other’s strengths and I had to admit that I’d be hard-pressed to find something in the real world that could rival what they were learning by playing Minecraft.
While I’m certainly more lenient in the amount of apps I download for my twins now that they’re seven years old, I still monitor all of them. I don’t allow apps that are strictly games, such as Angry Birds or Candy Crush, and we don’t have Wii, DS, or any true ”video game” consoles. I have to admit that I view most of the apps on our iPad as learning tools, and I also approve of my children playing them””video games or not. My husband recently commented that the kids had been ”playing the iPad” for over an hour, and I had to point out that they were playing ”Presidents vs. Aliens” and learning the names of every U.S. president in order”¦and really, wasn’t that better than watching Pokemon?
(photo: Thijs Knaap)