Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Posts tagged ‘learning’

Not Your Parents’ Coloring Book

The Digital Chill Pill for Kids

ImageBecause I’m not a parent, I don’t spend a lot of time on blogs devoted to raising children. I read Motherlode sometimes on the New York Times, particularly if the article concerns education or children’s health. The only reason I came across this article was because it showed up in my Publisher’s Weekly daily email. I was intrigued because of my interest in cyberliteracy and how children are more adapted to constant use of the Internet than adults (even me, despite the fact that I’m 22). True, millennials and younger people are technology natives, while older adults are technology immigrants, where the younger people grew up with technology and have little to no trouble using it, while adults have to acclimate and adjust to a (digital) technology-heavy world. But even millennials are behind young children who are growing up with cell phones and iPads (I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in my teens, and even then it was a clunker). I see kids in the subway on iPads, in restaurants, in stores, in strollers. I’m mostly fascinated by this trend–all a parent has to do is hand over an iPad or iPhone, and a child is entertained for hours, much more than those activity or coloring books you did on road trips as a kid with a box of crayons. It’s a digital pacifier.

Is handing a kid an iPad any different than giving a coloring book or interactive game/puzzle? The goal is to distract the child, so what difference does it make if it’s on a screen or not? We’ve been developing games to improve children’s education for ages, and that technology is becoming more and more sophisticated as time goes on. As a kid, I had a “laptop” with a bunch of educational games on it, and my brother and I often worked on brain teasers/puzzles/logic games. So, were my brother and I any better off?

The Ads Say This: Tablets Teach your Kids to Read, Write, and Play

ImageYou can’t escape the bombardment of tablet apps and ads geared toward children. I see them every day on billboards and in the subways. They’re ubiquitous, and the message is clear: an iPad can teach your kid to write, to read, and to play (by the way, play is a valuable form of learning, but that’s a different topic for a different day). Because parents want their kids to get ahead of the curve, they’ve invested in video/handheld education games for years. As a kid, I remember seeing ads for pre-tablet handheld video games, kind of like a Nintendo Gameboy but it was all about interactive learning. But these games and handheld devices have become increasingly sophisticated and diversified with thousands of games and apps to choose from.

In my opinion, yes, iPads are different than old-school non-digital games. As someone who had bad fine motor skills, using a regular crayon to color improved my handwriting. Using a pencil to practice my letters made my grip on writing utensils better. Using my finger to trace letters on a screen or pressing spaces on a coloring “page” would have done little to solve the problem of my poor fine motor skills. In addition, you interact differently with paper and actual hard games like Rubik’s cubes or mancala or even checkers than you do with a screen. I’m not faulting parents who use iPads to get their kids to chill while they try to go shopping or enjoy a meal. I definitely understand that from a non-parent perspective. But should iPads and tablets be our default digital education tool?

Alone Together

There’s another perspective on this–giving kids iPads as a constant distraction prevents them from interacting with other people and improving interpersonal skills. Additionally, not having constant visual and auditory stimulation on a screen teaches children how to sit in quiet, to be alone, to be by themselves in their heads. Children need to react to external stimuli, but children also need to know how to really talk to other people and to value alone time.

ImageInterestingly enough, the article mentions an expert whose Ted talk I watched during cyberliteracy class. Sherry Turkle explains that the more time we spend in front of screen, interacting with others through instant messaging and email, the more we isolate ourselves, and not in a good way. Having a good-ol’ fashioned conversation and actually engaging another person are far more valuable than learning your letters on a tablet. Knowing how to keep in touch with people beyond just Facebook wall posts and photo sharing is an important skill that we inhibit in our children when we emphasize digital technology that cannot–and should not–replace basic human interaction. We are social creatures, herd animals, and we benefit enormously from human touch, from mimicking other’s facial gestures and body posture, from learning basic social skills.

Maybe iPads are better than what I had–how do we know? The data isn’t in yet about what children on iPads are like long-term in terms of neurology, psychology, and sociology. Only time will tell.

What About Books?

So what does this have to do with books, you ask? Well, publishers and developers alike are creating books that are more like games than books. Just like those books where you have a choice (“If you enter the cave, turn to page 50; if you decide to take an alternative route, turn to page 12”), these new books embed into the text games, video, sound, etc. In a way, I think this development is pretty cool that books are now a social, interactive application. Integrating media into text is important–multimedia and multimodal texts are becoming de rigeur.

kid reading bookBut, as a traditionalist, I have to put up a fight for the old school book. Digital, interactive textbooks will probably be a good thing–kids will be able to check answers quickly, engage in learning, and explore new learning techniques. But as for literature with a capital “L,” the value of the old school paper book cannot be overstated. These books teach concentration, focus, and valuable lessons on the human condition. Books as art shouldn’t be reduced to fun and games–“serious” reading improves critical thinking skills and themes about what it is to be human.

So please–use an iPad, but still get kids hooked on reading with picture books, then chapter books, then young adult books, then books for adults. Books can still be illustrated, fun, entertaining, exciting, even without buttons and whistles and bells and gadgets.

Rediscovering the Library

I have a friend who theorizes that you can learn everything you need to know about a person by going through his or her wallet. My wallet needs to be cleaned out, so I think there’s a fairly accurate picture of my life in the folds of my wallet–insurance cards (both health and car), appointment cards for the doctor, punch reward card for that frozen yogurt place by TCU’s campus, old metro card from my last trip to NYC, and two library cards for the Flower Mound and Lewisville Public Libraries. I have had these library cards since before I actually knew how to read at age 4. If you look on the back for the signature, you will find my four-year-old handwriting scribbling out my first name in sprawling letters, with my mother’s neat hand writing out my name underneath.

My family and I have been involved in libraries for as long as I can remember. My mom has volunteered regular at the local library for years, and my brother and I went to reading and story time from the time we could sit still and listen. My childhood memories are filled with snippets of plays, activities, and summer reading challenges. It was in the library that I began to appreciate the power of books, the smell of the pages, the crinkle of the dust covers. My parents bought my brother and I bricks to help pay for the new library when we expanded. I still smile when I stand in front of the library and see my name on a brick almost 15 years old. When I was in high school and active in National Honor Society, I fulfilled my volunteer requirements by helping out with the summer reading program–handing out prizes and dutifully receiving burns from the popcorn machine as I popped popcorn for movie night while filling Dixie cups with lukewarm instant lemonade. I shelved during the school year, cracking my knees as I bent down to straighten the children’s books. I loved these evenings at the library, remembering a favorite book as I sorted the returns on the shelves.

But somehow, for some reason, I have forgotten the library since my high school graduation. I’ve spent most of my book discovery either online or in brick-and-mortar bookstores, agonizing over spending my part-time pay on that paperback that looked so enticing. My thoughts would often go, “It would take three hours of work to pay for this book–is it worth it?” The usual answer was a resounding, “Yes.” But as I’ve decided to move to New York after my graduation in December, I realized I couldn’t keep acquiring books. I needed to save money and space. I’ve sold a large portion of my collection, only keeping those books that have deep sentimental value, are my very favorites, or are gifts from close family and friends, notes inside the covers and on title pages that I can’t bear to part with. Now I realize I can’t buy any new books, not if I want to get to New York without bringing a miniature library with me. But I still have an insatiable desire to read. So where do I go and what do I do? I go to the library.

Yes, the library has its drawbacks. I try not to think about the number of hands and germs that have touched the pages, and I try not to get frustrated when that book I’ve really had my eye on has three hold requests and won’t be available until probably November. But for all the “inconveniences” (read: first-world problems), I was delighted after my first trip to the library this past weekend. I checked out four of my old favorite murder mysteries that I’ve had to sell to create shelf space, and I found four promising nonfiction reads. I’ve already read two and enjoyed them immensely–The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson and Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. I also went to the TCU library to check out some books for research for my honors thesis–13 books checked out until November. Since I have graduate student status, I could have checked out up to 100 at once if I’d wanted to, a shocking number that I couldn’t really fathom. The fact that over 1 million titles and articles are available at the TCU library is both overwhelming and exciting.

The library is an incredible resource–I can read as many books as I want without paying a dime and without my shelf becoming cluttered and crowded. I’m grateful and blessed that my community has two amazing libraries close by, and the TCU library is so well cared for and so friendly, even if learning the LIbrary of Congress sorting system freaked me out a little my freshman year. Thanks to the library, I can enable my reading habit without going broke and without piles of books on the floor because my shelf space ran out. Library shelves are just as full of promise and excitement as bookstore shelves, and we can all benefit from a trip to our local library.

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