Thursday, December 2, 2010

Drawing Conclusions

This post is by Megan Fischer, Marketing & Public Relations Manager.

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.

Really?!? Why?

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 and there were A LOT of interesting comments. Check out the conversation here.


Mary Hackman said...

Thank you Megan for what seems to me a really well-balanced commentary on the choices parents have today for how children spend their time...I recently had the same response when I watched a 5 year old working on a screen where all she needed to do to create color was hit a spot on one side of the screen. When she wanted green, she hit the green spot. I wondered afterwards why this bothered me so? I think I have the same aversion to adults asking children questions they already know the answer to or those that just call for a "yes" or "no"...and the conversation quickly comes to an end. What is creative about an already designed form being filled in with color at the press of a stylus? It made me sad to see such a toy...Bring back the crayons and paper!

Maïa said...

Hi Meghan,

I'm a parent here in Providence, and I just read your post "Drawing Conclusions" and drew a sigh of relief - realizing that in fact I'm not alone, that there are at least 2 of us who think like you do! Great commentary and I think it should be published in the newspapers as well. :-)

Best regards,

Anne said...

Megan, I'm so glad you included the picture of chalk drawing from the learning club! Outdoor art-making is the best!