Lately I’ve seen a barrage of commercials for the new Wii drawing tablet and am astounded. The concept: kids use a stylus to “draw” on a tablet connected to their television and the images they create appear on the screen. It comes with a game of Pictionary the family can play together.
What about drawing with REAL paper and pencils, crayons or markers?
What happened to families sitting around a table playing board games together?
What about the fact that our kids are already oversaturated with screen time? (According to the Alliance for Childhood, children in the U.S. between the ages of 8 and 18 now spend over 7 hours per day in front of screens with very little time spent outdoors.)
I’ve written before about the importance of kids having authentic experiences with real things, and that certainly applies here. It’s not just about the motor skills and hand-eye coordination children develop when they move pen over paper, learning how to hold and manipulate tools. And it’s not just about the acquisition of artistic skills.
I believe there’s also something incredibly important about the physical process of creation and of having authentic creative experiences. Approaching a blank page with nothing to structure the experience besides one’s imagination. The feeling of markers on paper, paint on fingers. The smell of crayons and freshly sharpened pencils. The sense of accomplishment in seeing something you’ve created, that flowed from your hands to your canvas. Doodling, dipping into paint, digging into clay, building with blocks, maybe even making messes…all in the act of creating.
For all of us, drawing and other forms of creative expression can provide a way to perceive and think about the world around us and communicate our ideas – especially important for kids. Plus the process of creation requires active engagement and can inspire imagination as well as concentration and persistence.
I know there are arguments about the need for children to acquire skills applicable to new technologies, about technical or digital literacy. But as I see it, many kids today are practically saturated with electronics and have plenty of opportunities to develop these proficiencies. The digital divide is no longer an issue. Instead, helping kids manage the onslaught of technology and digital media is a growing concern.
I’m reminded of a recent screening of "Library of the Early Mind," a wonderful documentary in which 40 renowned children’s book authors and illustrators reflect on their childhood memories and inspiration. Many of them speak about creating their own worlds as children and about the powerful impact of their early creative experiences on their work and process. It’s interesting to think about what might have been if they weren’t allowed opportunities to create, explore and discover as children. (Also consider what the children’s literature landscape would look like if given over to the electronic book. Imagine story time with a screen, not giving a child the physical experience of turning the pages, of engaging with the story and the artwork.)
Our world is changing rapidly. Being immersed in digital communications for the Museum, I’m faced with that everyday. I’m not arguing that we should turn our backs on technology – there’s a time and place for it, and it’s certainly not going away. And there are many great examples of ways kids and families are using technology in creative, even physical ways – to go geocaching or design their own games.
But we need to think carefully about what we’re at risk of losing and stand up for what’s important. To make sure our children have opportunities for active, authentic creative experiences and not give everything meaningful over to screens and electronics.
Maybe there’s something I’m missing and, if so, please comment. But I’d really like to hear YOUR thoughts about navigating the incredible changes we’re faced with and what we – and our kids – might be losing in the process.
_____________________________________This article was subsequently posted on Kidoinfo.com and there were A LOT of interesting comments. Check out the conversation here.