Once upon a time, I was preparing to read a bedtime story to my niece who had just begun reading simple chapter books. When I opened the book she chose, she took a look at the page of contents and said, “Let’s read chapter 2! No! Let’s do 4! No, let’s play all!” I realized she was referring to the “play all” feature on a DVD.
I’m amazed at how plugged in this kid is. I can practically see the wires coming from her head — or I guess these days, she’s probably a wireless little girl with Bluetooth capabilities. Most newer models of children are.
Kids are, without a doubt, well versed in technology. It’s easy to assume all this computer literacy comes at the expense of freeform childhood creativity. Tablets and smart phones have replaced macaroni art. Pretend time involves game controllers and avatars. It may seem like being plugged in doesn’t leave room for imagination.
Does it stifle creativity to hand over the iPad? Where is the line between using technology for good (making learning tools accessible to children in schools the world over) and using it for evil? (OK, maybe not evil, but giving the kid an iPhone so we can have a nice, quiet dinner may not be our proudest parenting moment.)
With toy and app developers’ eyes now trained on the littlest consumers, there are a lot of products to choose from. Some of these are designed solely to tame children, to lull them into a kind of tech coma while you complete a task uninterrupted. The problem is that these products always include bonus guilt about having let a small, talking, rectangular device parent your child.
These apps and games are not trying hard enough. It’s possible to effectively walk the line between technology and artistic expression. You can give your kid an iPad and know that their brains are doing something other than slowly atrophying to the tune of Sponge Bob. (Don’t get me wrong; I love Sponge Bob, but you know what I’m getting at here.)
There are plenty of places to find technology that allows children to think artistically and allow you to squelch boredom like a parenting rock star.
First we must address an unalterable truth of the tech world: Robots are awesome. The 4M Doodling Robot is one of my favorite new toys for little artists for this reason. Vibration and spin help this creative robot draw a picture by itself. Kids 8 and older can build a robot, then watch it create art with markers.
I can hear some of you lamenting that this is where the robot revolution has left us. First they’re drawing pictures for our kids, then they’ll be signing them up for soccer summer camp and driving them to play dates.
It’s possible that your kid could sit eating chips, picking her nose and watching something draw a picture for her. But that ain’t happening unless the kid builds the robot first, which hones his concentration while giving him basic knowledge of mechanics and robotics. I also love this toy because it forces children to relinquish control.
Here’s an experiment you can do if you haven’t heard enough tantrums lately. Give five kids their own pieces of paper and tell them to begin drawing a picture. Stop them. Have them pass their papers to the left. Tell them to continue drawing on their neighbor’s picture. Some kids immediately take to this, many others will cry that little Aiden is turning their penguin into a rocket ship and that isn’t fair. Have them pass the pictures again.
I swear emotionally tormenting small children in my spare time is not a beloved pastime. By the end of all the passing, kids start to understand the ideas of collaborative art and freedom of expression. The doodling robot can do this without all the screaming and name-calling. You can’t make the robot draw you a princess, you have to use imagination to see if there’s a princess in ever-evolving doodle.
The ArtSee Studio is another toy that marries old-school creativity with technology. ArtSee Studio is a drawing kit that transforms drawings and paintings on the iPad into animated games, cartoons and activities. Just click an iPad into the protective case. (There’s even a piece the covers the “home” button so kids can’t get out of the app and into your power point presentation.)
The tactile stylus can be used as pencil, crayon, marker or paintbrush. Turning it on its side makes textures and visual effects. ArtSee includes a stamp that helps kids create everything from cars to sea creatures. There is a sound tool that helps bring drawings to life by making lions roar and trains choo-choo down the tracks. Their drawings can jump, run and drive. For future iterations of ArtSee, producers are hoping to add a voice-recording feature so little ones can add their own voice to the stories and games they create. And yes, if you lose one of the ArtSee tools they are easily replaceable.
Sometimes we unintentionally stifle our kids’ creativity. While we’re far from yelling “Elephants don’t ride on trains! You’re grounded!” we unwittingly instill this idea anyway. Even saying something as simple as “This is how you draw an elephant.” can plant the seed that the way your kid draws her own pachyderm is wrong.
If ArtSee has a drawback, it’s that everyone’s elephant will look the same via the stamp tool, but the fact that there are so many different themes and an option for freehand drawing makes up for it.
The creativity herein may not come entirely from the variation of everyone’s stamped animal but instead from the ability to create a story and to see it come to life. More importantly, in the ArtSee world, animals are actually celebrated for their locomotive prowess. Elephants can, in fact, ride on trains.
Creating is an experience of experimenting. All the better if you can give kids this type of artistic freedom within a framework that they are knowledgeable about. This way you can feel a little bit better about letting the kid play with your iPad while you finish your meal or laundry … or sentence.