Obsessions or Passions 4

Obsessions or Passions

Often times I hear adults talking about how children are engaging in obsessive behaviors when playing video games or spending time on computers. Just recently, the New York Times published an article discussing how Minecraft can be educational as long as we set limits on the time spent playing the game. The author spoke of how simple the game was and compared it to virtual Legos. I can understand how a person who doesn’t play the game might understand it as a simple platform for building and making digital objects. But, really, is the game that simple or is that just the interpretation and comparison people make when they don’t understand something unfamiliar?

As a parent who was opposed to long periods of time playing a video game, I have  to admit, I have changed my mind! My daughters spent hours playing Minecraft starting when they were 6 and 4 years of age. Both of them took the game in two very different directions.

Our younger daughter spent her time building, creating, and collaborating with others in the game. But didn’t spend as much time on it as her older sister – due to her other interests: she likes playing board games, pretend, sports, and  loves to bake.

Our older daughter spent time building and creating, too, but she was so intrigued with how the game worked, that she spent more time in game than her sister. Her father and I  we had to analyze what she was doing when playing because we were so concerned with the time she was dedicating to it.  We discovered that  she was learning about the game in different ways.

There were days that she would spend a few hours playing in game –  watching others play the game via YouTube – and then hours researching the web for resources to mod the game, to make skins, or to learn different formulas for mixing the natural resources together to make her tools for the game. She even began using command prompts and worked with her dad to make servers so she could play with her cousins and family friends privately. Eventually, she started videoing herself to teach others how to play the game.  All of this before she was 7 years old. I liken her experience to  what a young person posted on the New York Times comments section:

Joseph Moulton, a 13-year-old reader from Connecticut took this game a bit deeper than building and creating digital artifacts:

“I’ve been playing this game for almost 3 years now (Since Feb. 2011), and being 13, I’ve pretty much been growing up on it. Minecraft has introduced tons and tons of new things into my life, such as programming, proper language skills (heh), and some negative stuff as well,” he wrote. “These are the people that inspired me to learn Java, the language Minecraft is written in. Since then, I’ve learned all I can about computer programming, learning languages such as PHP, CSS, C#, and Python.”

Shouldn’t we be encouraging these opportunities to apply new knowledge, extend, and deepen their understanding?

I compare her experience with  playing video games with learning to read books. She use to spend long periods of time with piles of books, flipping through them, babbling while turning the pages, giggling while touching the book, and listening to me read.  Eventually, she started to write some of the letters or say their names and sounds. Much of her days were spent immersed in this ‘reading environment’. This is similar to playing and learning video games.

She spent many hours playing different kinds of video games, watching others play, and talking about them with others. Eventually, she started to type command prompts, change the games using mods, and designed her own ‘skins’ (clothes for her avatar). Even though she hasn’t learned PHP or CSS or Java, I can see this as a possibility.  I can also see her learning to be a doctor, engineer, or a scientist due to her passion for investigating areas of interest, her eye/hand coordination, her ability to visualize, and her interests in strategy. Is this time she spends immersed in these environments obsessive or is it simply learning a new literacy that isn’t part of her school curriculum (as of yet)?

Helping children dig deeper is what we should encourage – when they are learning to read  – do we tell them they can only read twenty minutes a day – or do we encourage immersing them in a “literacy rich” environment? When they are learning their arithmetic, do we limit it to twenty minutes of drills or do we encourage immersing them in using math in the kitchen, when they play, and when they are doing everyday activities? Playing video games is a part of this immersion – and limiting it to a shorter period of time is limiting their likelihood of digging into the layers and complexities of how they are made, understood, and can be used.

Today, our children have stopped spending hours and hours playing Minecraft, not because of their parents telling them too – but because they have chosen new areas to immerse themselves in — now they are interested in learning to play instruments, to play basketball, and they are playing around with designing artifacts using digital platforms.  We encourage them to spend as much time as they want learning about their interests – and doing them! They play the piano, they play ball, and they play video games. To me it’s equally important to their overall education – so some days they spend a couple hours playing video games and other days they spend that time playing piano or ball. Playing is necessary for young children to understand and to make meaning of their world.

And for those of you worried that this isn’t in alignment with those tests that they children are mandated to take – Don’t worry – they’re learning plenty during that dedicated and protected time to be a kid! I strongly suggest having more conversations with your kids about their playtime – dig a little deeper – find out what they are ‘crafting’ in their minds….. “homework” from school is over-rated— the time children spend out-of-school should be more concentrated on applying what they learned to their everyday lives  vs. completing worksheets and mandatory reading assignments. Think outside the box – and your children will too!    

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