The Recalibration of Play

Am I worried about the proliferation of digital devices in our homes and schools?

Not really.

I’m more concerned that parents, when with their children at home, are simply using tablets, laptops, iPod Touch’s, Xbox consoles, etc. as a distraction device. An easy opportunity to abdicate parenting to the device itself.

This is clearly wrong. Those parents have got it entirely wrong. My worry revolves around the disappearance of proper face-to-face social and behavioural skills that our children will require in an effort to engage and to ultimately prosper in this world of ours. I believe Peter Rawsthorne is taking his parental philosophy to a whole other level as well. (see comment)

But there is something happening in our homes and schools that could be construed as positive.

I think it is the Recalibration of Parallel Play.

I suppose the stewards of true face-to-face social learning are in fact children. Their predisposition, more often than not, is to collaborate with one another when playing. As a family adds devices and gaming platforms to the mix, we are beginning to see this recalibration take shape.

For example, in my home where there are permanent residents aged 8, 6 and 4, there are time limits my wife and I set when they engage with Wii/Xbox, iPads, iPod Touches or laptops … in addition to old-fashioned television. (recorded PVR-accessed learning shows only though)

Time limits are set up because we strongly believe that a) if given the choice, they would be on electronic devices most of the day and b) we don’t want our kids to be 300 pounds and social misfits entering high school.

But, in lieu of the rules, some interesting developments are shaping up in our household:

    • Roughly 50% of the time one of them is on an iPad, one or both of the other siblings are hovering and engaged as well
      • When on an iPod Touch, it looks to be about a third of the time
    • Nobody wants to play games on Wii or Xbox unless someone else is with them
    • The laptop that they get to use is an ‘educational’ laptop (ie. like the ‘i’ devices, all games are educational in nature, so no Angry Birds or Farmville in this house) and as such, when one is on it, more often than not someone is beside them learning, interacting, cooperating, etc.

That’s the territorial level of parallel play that is being recalibrated. But, what’s better is the behavioural aspect.

Normally there is one user that can be considered to be the primary with the other one or two deemed the secondary user(s). What’s continually occurring is a level of engagement that is behaviourally poetic. The primary user often asks for feedback from the secondary user(s) whether related to strategy, questions, options, thoughts, etc. The secondary user(s) also occassionally volunteer suggestions and feedback to assist the primary user.

For example, the 6 y/o boy calls out, “hey girls, I’m going into the basement … grab the iPad and let’s play Board Game Island on Wii.”

Why the iPad?

We have taught them to use a timer app when using Wii which is pre-set to a daily 30 minute limit. But the key nugget in that line is that the boy wants to play with the girls and not alone.

Here’s another example to share. “Hey Cole,” says Claire, the 8 y/o. “I’m writing a story, wanna join me?”

The ‘story’ in question is an iPad app called Picturebook. Through simple illustrations and added sounds, kids can easily create their own stories. What happens in our house, however, is group-based story-writing, complete with each child having a voice-over role. It is powerful to watch.

And no, this isn’t “Leave it to Beaver“. There are plenty of arguments and occasional tears too where the parents have to step in to manage the situation. After all, they are 8, 6 and 4.

And before my detractors call foul, yes we have the means to afford the technology in the first place. Secondly, we equip our house with plenty of tactile learning opportunities from wood based toys, whiteboards, art stations, dress-up trunks, etc. And yes, the kids are in various athletic endeavours such as soccer, dance, etc. not to mention music lessons. In other words, we believe there is appropriate learning balance.

What’s going on in our house in terms of what we’re witnessing is now backed up by research from the Dig­i­tal Youth Project. Per a recent Mindshift post: a Macarthur Foun­da­tion study found that kids hang­ing out with each other, watch­ing movies or TV, play­ing videos togeth­er or lis­ten­ing to music, were more active­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in what they were doing. They talked with each other about what they were watch­ing or play­ing, they worked togeth­er on mod­i­fy­ing video games, and they were true partners when cre­at­ing dig­i­tal media.

I’d argue that we’re beginning to witness the Recalibration of Parallel Play. (even in spite of additional technologies being added to our children’s lives)

Do you agree with my thoughts?

Is it happening in your home? If you have one child, is it occurring when you have play dates or at their school?

Do you see it in your grandkids yet? What about children of your friends?

I’m sure others reading this would love to hear your thoughts.

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5 comments on “The Recalibration of Play”

  1. Hi Dan
    I like it! Max is now 8 months and we definitely went through a stage of iPad being a distraction.
    Now, he has a few ‘games’, things like Peek-a-Boo Barn that are educational or stories that are interactive (like The Monster at the End of This Book) and he knows what to do.
    Funniest thing is he touches the tv screen and looks confused when nothing happens…

  2. @Andi – 8 months, wow. The Monster at the End of This Book is awesome, but so is your awesome parenting style. Kudos. I remember our oldest (now 8 years old) staring at a rotary telephone as a 3 year-old not sure what to do with it when visiting one of her French grandmother’s. Classic moment akin to touching the TV screen expecting things to happen.

  3. I applaud all fathers and mothers who are committed to parenting. I personally do not have children but enjoy my nephews and my friend’s children. When given a choice of receiving a present that is wrapped up or an experience they can enjoy with someone like seeing Seussical the musical or going to children’s festival, hands down they always pick the experience.

  4. Apple’s textbook revolution, with the support of Pearson and McGraw-Hill’s massive library of content, makes me want to be a kid again. I’m so excited for my daughters first experience with technology (iBaby is due May 29, 2012).

    My best friend is the principal of a French Elementary school and he has put projectors attached to a central server and Apple TV’s in each of his classrooms. Now the teachers have access to the library of content on the server and the ability to stream from their iPads and MacBooks directly to the projector. His next step is to equip the school with an iPad cart which houses and charges 30 iPads and can be wheeled into any classroom.

    I still remember how fancy everyone thought I was when I handed in an essay in first year that was completed with fonts and the UBC logo on Wordperfect. Oh, how things have changed.

  5. I completely agree Dan. My 2 and 4 year old love playing eductational games on the iPhone. The other day, I got nervous because it was too quiet. As I peered into the kitchen, I saw my two little one’s hovered over the iPhone. Liam was playing Alphabet Mouse and he earned a sticker. He asked his sister what “earn” meant, and I got to listen to her teach him and explain. Social learning at it’s best!

Hey! I'd love to read what you think. Surely you have an opinion. Love, Dan.