While visiting my parents last weekend, my mom left an article sitting on my laptop from the October 5, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal (can anyone say packrat?). The title of the article, How Handwriting Trains the Brain: Forming Letters is Key to Learning, Memory, Ideas. It talks about the increase of brain activity shown via a “functional” MRI scan in children who had practiced printing by hand versus those who were simply shown different letters. The article made me think of the exhibits we create for children across the country as well as changes in school curriculum.
A couple years ago, I began reading about a number of school districts dropping cursive writing from their curriculum. As the daughter of an English teacher, the news did not delight me. In another WSJ article from January 2013, a North Carolina school board member was quoted, “We’re trying to be realistic about skills that kids are going to need. You can’t do everything. Something’s got to go.” Students now are expected to know how to type by fourth grade! I took typing my freshman year of high school and I think I’ve turned out just fine (I’m also efficient at printing and cursive, too, although I must admit I regularly use more of a hybrid).
My point: why do we push electronics on our youngsters so early? I’m not against kids using iPads, computers, smart phones; I’m questioning why can’t we teach the basics without a screen? Give our kids a good foundation (math without calculators anyone?); then enhance the foundation with electronics as they age. Let’s give them time to develop their imaginations and thinking and reasoning skills before sitting them in front of a screen.
I’m not anti-technology; I simply believe we shouldn’t jump to a high-tech solution every time we want to add interactivity to an exhibit. I think touchscreens have their place, but low-tech interactives are often much more popular with youngsters. I visited the Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal, IL a few weeks ago. We could barely get near the dress-up theater and water table because there were so many kids in these areas. The exhibits we had no trouble using? The high-tech interactives.
Here are a couple engaging low-tech interactives.
I spend the majority of my day in front of a screen as many Americans do, so let’s not give our kids a screen for every game or task. They’ll have the rest of their lives to live in front of a screen. Pull out a game board, gather the family, and provide children opportunities to be creative and hone their fine motor skills the old-fashioned way.