So this morning, when I walked through the living room to get my morning bowl of gruel, my daughter was planted in front of the computer with that “nothing can distract me from this” look on her face. This was a fairly unusual sight for 7:15 in the morning as she usually uses her metered computer time after school or in the evenings. And it was also unusual because she wasn’t busy outfitting her igloo on Club Penguin. Turns out it was some doll house site where she was designing and decorating a quite elaborate three-story mockup where, as best as I could figure, some virtual dolls live.
Of course the whole site was pink. Yuck.
I spent a some time watching her “play,” struck by the way she figured out how to move things around, and sensing the pride she was feeling for her creation. She has some pretty decent taste, I’d say, but way too much of an interest in shoes.
Later, my friend Warren Buckleitner pointed me to an article in today’s Times: “Doll Web Sites Drive Girls to Stay Home and Play.” And here’s the money quote:
Millions of children and adolescents are spending hours on these sites, which offer virtual versions of traditional play activities and cute animated worlds that encourage self-expression and safe communication. They are, in effect, like Facebook or MySpace with training wheels, aimed at an audience that may be getting its first exposure to the Web. While some of the sites charge subscription fees, others are supported by advertising. As is the case with childrenâ€™s television, some critics wonder about the broader social cost of exposing children to marketing messages, and the amount of time spent on the sites makes some child advocates nervous.
I’ve blogged about this before, this social networking with training wheels analogy, and I think this is another interesting example of it. (In fact rumor has it there will soon be a “Preschool 2.0” book coming out. I’m serious.) I struggle with the commercial aspects, which is why we opted for Club Penguin. And I definitely struggle with how much time my kids should spend online. But I see all of these shifts that I want them to be able to navigate, and while I certainly want them to spend a good chunk of their time getting dirty and scraped up outside, I also think helping them spend time in online environments has a fair amount of importance as well. Like many parents, however, I have no real context for knowing how much. All I could do was watch “Lost in Space.”
But I better figure it out:
â€œTheyâ€™re spreading rapidly among kids,â€ Mr. Bernoff said, noting that the enthusiasm has a viral analogy. â€œItâ€™s like catching a runny nose that everyone in the classroom gets.â€
At least, I hope, my own kids will have a certain level of inoculation from the constant conversations we’ve had about life online as they have been growing up.
Iain Cook-Bonney says
My daughter too has that look on her face! She is also a ‘penguin’, and absolutely loves the site. With both parents being teachers and one of them an ICT Facilitator, we also wonder “how much is enough?” and “Is this doing more good than harm?”. So far my resonse is yes, this is a good thing, with balance. I want my children to have a skill set that will allow them to safely navigate the digital and web based world they are growing up in. So I like the idea of a sandbox or training wheels site that will allow them to explore and start building these skills.
Having said all that, we still want grass stains and ballet practice as well!
Thanks for the post, I’m gad I’m not the only one who struggles with these questions…
Gary Stager says
Do you meter your daughter’s doll time?
Gary Stager says
I get queasy when adults make analogies like “X on training wheels” or “Y 2.0” The analogies tend to be weak.
Gary Stager says
I had a heated dinner conversation with a school computer teacher this evening.
She was arguing for a specific scope and sequence of computer applications intended to prepare students for “the real world” still years away. Besides my objection to what Paolo Friere called, “the banking model – learn this now because you may need it someday,” it seems patently ridiculous to believe that one tool or sequence of skills is essential for later. If this were true then every teacher who did not plan for web-based apps is guilty of negligence.
I suggested that 5th/6th grade projects like “researching MP3 players on the web and then comparing the prices in Excel” to be examples of sugar-coated medicine and less authentic than the real mathematics preschoolers are doing naturally in Club Penguin.
Once school “math” teaches kids arithmetic tricks the construction of mathematical knowledge and sense of self as capable mathematicians kids experience in real and virtual worlds is nearly over. Club Penguin may be a more productive context for learning than math class. It’s our challenge to make formal classes much more natural and put away our crystal balls.
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