Star Ledger’s Article on High Tech Toys and Student Creativity
This week, the Star Ledger published an interesting article on high tech tech toys and their impact on student creativity. I enjoyed it and I loved the message about how technology enhances learning opportunities, rather than replacing them. For example, my daughters love Dinosaur Train, and they check off each dinosaur they learn about in their little paleontology book. We even have a Museum of Natural History APP that focuses on dinosaurs. Although they love this iPod application and the PBS television show, they do not replace an actual visit to a real dinosaur skeleton.
You can read the article written by Carmen Juri in its entirety below:
High-tech toys are a learning tool, but not if youngsters become overly wired
A jar that counts coins as a child drops them in and displays the total on an LED screen. iPhone apps for toddlers. A computer designed for a 2-year-old.
Objects that were once viewed as tools have now turned into toys.
High-tech children’s gadgets flooding the marketplace can confuse parents, and make it difficult for each Mom and Dad to separate cleverly-packaged items from truly educational toys. The task gets even more complicated now that high-tech toys are being marketed to children are still in diapers.
“Some of the tech toys are terrific. Others, unfortunately, are not,” said Claire Green, president of the Parents’ Choice Foundation (parents-choice.org), whose mission is to provide parents with enough information to participate wisely in their children’s learning outside the classroom. The foundation spearheaded the Sandbox Summit, a series of conferences designed to illustrate how technology is changing the way kids play, learn and connect.
For years, toys for youngsters have been infused with technology, but the last couple of years have seen that growth accelerate by leaps and bounds, said Green. And there is no going back.
“We’re not going to put this genie back in the bottle,” said Green. “We have crossed the digital Rubicon.”
A new generation of hand-held electronic games for children will be introduced at Toy Fair 2011, scheduled Feb. 13 through 16 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.
Toy industry expert Richard Gottlieb, who is hosting a talk on toys and gender at the fair, said technology is an important part of our modern existence — but small children need to learn the physics of living in a three-dimensional world.
“The oldest way of gaining this knowledge is through playing with physical toys. Watch a small child stack up wooden blocks; watch them fall; watch the child rebuild again and again until the blocks stay in a stack,” said Gottlieb, CEO of USA Toy Experts and publisher of Global Toy News (globaltoynews.com).
“That is how the child learns the laws of mass and gravity. The child thinks it is play. It is not. It is an education.”
Going forward, parents must choose toys wisely, said Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children’s Technology Review, a Flemington-based consumer reports for children’s interactive media.
Buckleitner said a child’s development should be the starting point in selecting an appropriate toy.
“Toys can definitely help a child, can enhance development, enrich play and empower them. A good toy helps empower a child,” Buckleitner said.
Those with younger children should seek out technology that can foster feelings of empowerment.
“For younger children, below 2, I use Piaget’s guildelines for sensory motor. A lot of causal toys can be very empowering,” he said. “You push a button and get a light, a sound. Even an LED in a child’s shoe is really cool for a kid. They can jump and get something and they’re the driver of the activity.”
“We have to make sure they’re still teaching the critical thinking skills and creative skills that our kids have always learned through traditional play,” Green said.
Green spoke of the “pass-back phenomenon,” a trend where parents pass back their smart phones or iPhones to their children in the back seat of the car, so much that the gadgets become second nature to them.
It’s a phenomenon that has yielded a whole set of apps for toddlers.
“Many of the iPhone apps are really a lot of fun. Some of them absolutely teach something, whether it’s cause and effect,” Green said.
Such apps include Pocket Frogs, where kids can collect, trade and breed new frogs in customizable habitats, and Highlights Hidden Pictures, where children can find and hunt for pictures. These teach observation skills, patience and follow-through, said Green.
The VTech Mobigo, an interactive learning device that uses a touchscreen and keyboard to control game play, is also an example of a good educational toy, she said.
Conversely, the Barbie Girl Video Camera has little learning value, Green said.
“I would not use that as an example of a learning toy or tool,” she said.
How do you tell the difference — and how can you evaluate a toy’s claims? Can the right toy make your tot a genius, as some claim?
“There’s never a shortage of people who try to sell development. Who doesn’t want a smarter child?” Buckleitner said.
Websites such as Buckleitner’s childrenstech.com and amazon.com offer valuable reviews by parents, he said.
Mostly, though, parents need to trust their own gut and feel good about what their child is doing with a particular toy, Buckleitner said. They should also allow time for old-fashioned play, experts said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against wiring kids too early. It advises against screen time for children age 2 or younger, and it recommends no more than one to two hours a day of quality programming on televisions or computers for older children.
Tech toys do not substitute for the traditional experiences, but they can enhance that experience, Buckleitner said.
“Go to the zoo with your children, let them smell the animals, then go to the website afterward where they can watch the webcam,” he said. “It’s a one-two punch and extends the learning.”