Tech savvy pre-schoolers

picture-13This Christmas has seen an explosion in pre-school and ‘just in school’ online offerings in 2008 and is significant I think.

Perhaps one of the most high profile playgrounds is from Jumpstart. Plenty of people remember them as developing some of the better CD-Rom pre-school and early learning titles, the types of ICTs that many of today’s high school students started with. Jumpstart has moved online, with a very clever and engaing ‘virtual world’, where kids learn and play as ‘Jumpies’. Then there are commercial offerings such as Build-A-Bear-Ville – a half decent virtual world marred by predicable product up sell. Pre-schoolers are busy enabling their Webkins, looking after their virtual plushy, playing games and dealing in a basic building and financial system. Away from commercial sell are offerings such as Secret Builders – another world of multi-user interaction. These are just three examples of many that my 5 and 3 year old have been giving a workout in the holiday.

While 2008 saw a lot of (mute) debate around MySpace, FaceBook et al in schools, it’s significant that tech-savvy parents are more than happy to have their children extending traditional ‘play’ with virtual ‘play’. While they like to play ‘games’ online – they are increasingly using multi-user environments, and these are getting quite astute in their safety, services and parental feedback mechanisms. The most popular console this Christmas was Nintendo’s Wii – which is again, enabled for multi-player over the internet. Playing with others online is just part of the territory – and not limited to the World of Warcraft.

Many, including my own daughter, start kindergarten this year having learned to read online with sites like Reading Eggs. They have built several avatars in Disney/Barbie websites and are quite fussy about their ‘digital representations’. Pre-schoolers have increasing access to read/write technology and therefore potentially more media literate than even a year ago. The ‘shift’ is heading downwards to pre-schoolers.

The technology they can use has surpassed that the current teen generation cut their ICT teeth on. CD-Roms are thing you put in the Wii, not a computer. What they learn in Kindy – will be applied to technology at home, the two things are blended learning. Playing with others online is just another thing to do – like reading a book, playing with plush toys or running in the park with friends. Giving your Webkin a virtual life simply extends their imagination and increases their ICT skills.

Of course not all parents and kids can do this. People talk about the digital divide getting wider, but it is also starting earlier. I think that the increase in pre and early school read/write websites is something not to be under-estimated. While I’ve heard primary school teachers say that much of the K12 action is happening at the 7-12 – there’s no reason to think that K6 has any less opportunity to blend ICTs into the classroom.


6 thoughts on “Tech savvy pre-schoolers

  1. Does this idea of ‘virtual’ play not concern parents? I am a parent of three year old twin boys, and I could not see myself letting them have any of the ‘online’ toys that I see in ads on tv, even though somehow they are considered age appropriate. My husband and wouldn’t even let them have the Fisher Price motorcyle game, because we would rather them play outside! The last time I heard, our children are still in an obesity crisis. Our children need activities that get them up and moving.

    • Melissa, I’ve got 3 kids, (7,5 and 3). They all run around outside, they all play sport, draw, pretend, write, make mess and do eveything any other kids does. We spend a lot of time camping or just outside with them. In the case of my 7 year old, he is much more able to make ‘real life’ connections with kids now, as he’s learned how small talk works in Warcraft. None of them are over weight, this is my point, the stereotype of the PlayStation Gaming Teen (playing alone) which followed the debate about how TV ruins kids in the 80s, does not address the skills kids are learning in communication and collaboration at this early age. Virtual play, really should be ‘extended digital play’ to be more accurate. I think it will concern parents, but then most parents of teen have little idea what their kids do (or could do) anyway. I think the entry age is falling – and there are both benefits and worries – but never the less, the trend is a significant shift from the teen/adult focus that we saw in 2007/8. Thanks for your input, best wishes.

  2. Hi Dean,

    Thanks very much for all the links. My 4-old daughter definitely falls into this category and is excelling at online use and navigation at a frightening pace. Perhaps it’s because I’m not spending a whole lot of time in the teenage realm online, but I definitely get the impression that the innovation and energy being put into ICT development for preschoolers is greater than that of older age groups.

    I remember when I was younger the joke was “How do you learn to work a DVD player? Give it to a child” I wonder if now the same could be said for games and other forms of new media?

    As a matter of fact, in saying that the thought occurs that when we talk about digital natives vs digital immigrants, perhaps we are only seeing a new version of this; and that the foundations of this disparity have always existed – only the technology is different this time. I’m not sure if that’s true or not (as I said it only just came to mind). Would you agree?

    Anyway hope all is well!



  3. Dean, I guess I jumped the gun on you. You are probably right in that those children who are suffering from the over use of online and digital play are those parents who are not very involved. I agree that some of the technology that kids use now are beneficial to communication, but here is a question that was being proposed in another discussion. If we keep advancing the technology at so early of an age, do we not widen the technology gap between generations?
    I think one of these days I am going to have to convince not only myself, but my husband as well that the times have changed and so have methods of play and as you mentioned earlier real life connections.

    • In response, I think that as parents, we should not have to hold our children back. It is the responsibility of the ‘system’ to provide professional development – and to stop relying on ‘good will’ or morally bankrupt pressurising teachers to learn it in their own time. Teachers are not the problem, the immoral pressure placed on them is. If the employer pays for PD, then apparently you owe them a moral debt. If you pay for the PD (through your time), they owe you nothing. I can appreciate fully why many teachers see this as untenable. Closing the gap is the responsibility of the K12 system and not a failure of teachers. I can’t see the gap closing unless there is a fundamentally more democratic, equitable and less moralistic pressure approach to professional development. And that, like it or not, does not suit the ‘system’ which are entrenched in the industrial age mentality of master and servant. Teachers are co-operating … but there’s only so much that they can do before it has detrimental impacts on the rest of their lives and their families. I can testify to that in spades.

  4. Pingback: Kidding Around With iPhones And The Like « My Other Blog

Comments are closed.