Tis the season to be deluged with ads for all manner of crap for kids, including “educational” computer games. Yeah, right. Wouldn’t you rather give your kids something of value, and that will help them develop real skills? Instead of turning into nearsighted wheezing lardbutted obsessive-compulsive button-pushers?
When I was a wee child it was a constant source of frustration that I was not allowed to shoot guns, run the table saw, or take pictures with the expensive camera. Why, I wasn’t allowed to even hold the little old .22 single-shot rifle until I was ten years old, and had demonstrated a solid week of responsible behavior. That was the longest week of my life.
Of course in retrospect I had it good- I had my own little garden plot, I got to use whatever hand woodworking tools I wanted, I learned several musical instruments, I got to draw and paint, and I had my very own Lassie-style collie dog. What I wanted most was to learn new things and to be competent, just like most kids. Most children are born hackers- the creative drive is very strong, and it takes years of indoctrination to kill the urge to hack. Boring schools and parents who have had their own creative drives killed off are a lethal combination. So they are prime prey for useless junk like the “educational” computer games that are now filling the airwaves.
So what’s a parent to do? You know that having at least a basic set of computing skills is essential for modern life. But what are those skills, and how should kids acquire them? I think the same old ways kids have always learned things and prepared for their futures: by spending a lot of time running around and playing outdoor games, building things by hand, and plain old desk work with books and paper.
Sesame Street has done more to damage education and learning than anything else I can think of. Kids don’t need learning to be tarted up with all kinds of flashy visuals and music- those are distractions that develop short attention spans. The abilities to read and concentrate are most important, not catering to some non-existent need to be entertained. Because learning itself is fun.
Computing is just a means to an end. Kids should know how to measure and cut wood before they learn CAD programs. They should know how to compute basic math and algebra by hand before they are ever allowed to lay hands on a calculator. They should know how to draw and paint before they touch digital editing software. They should know how to write letters and thank-you notes on actual paper before using email. Lordamercy, now you can plug a sewing machine into a computer and it does fancy embroidery for you. What’s the point of that? Where’s the fun, where’s the challenge?
So to sum up this rant: kids need to live real lives before entering cyberspace. Otherwise they risk becoming high-tech couch potatoes who can’t do anything.