August 8, 2013;, “MindShift”


These days, thoughts of kids with iPads and video games are often accompanied by a grimace and a defeated glance at an abandoned playground across the street. We worry about eyestrain and obesity and the lifelong, horrible personality defects these children will develop if they stumble onto something their innocent eyes aren’t ready to see.

And while we could probably spend a lot of time worrying about these things—and many do—we could also shift our focus to the newfound opportunities that tablets and smartphones are offering children who have lost arts programs in school due to budget cuts.

As it turns out, when we move beyond the standardized-test based realm of school, we move into a whole different kind of world. The Wallace Foundation, an organization dedicated to ensuring that kids have access to good education, particularly in underfunded areas, defines this realm as noticeably driven by a mix of “interest-driven arts learning” and new forms of digital technology.

What’s different about this new landscape is that kids are taking the initiative to explore their creative passions through the technological platforms that are accessible to them. And while they may not be receiving formal instruction, these kids are actually forming the same habits of mind through the process of self-teaching.

The article cites the example of Rock Band, a video game where kids play along with plastic instruments to real songs. Not only were these rock stars better at sight-reading and transcribing notation, they were more inclined to seek free or low-cost music lessons in their community, programs previously with very low attendance rates.

And although this process is driven heavily by the kids, the Wallace Foundation report cites ways that nonprofits can help to foster environments where this is possible. One example is the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco, which is part of a nonprofit network dedicated to offering technical learning opportunities that foster critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills. The museum takes a hands-on approach to exploring, and each child who visits walks away with a unique media or art project.

It’s hard to keep up with rapidly changing technology, but kids seem able to do it—and, beyond that, to teach themselves how to do it. Maybe it’s time to stop having nightmares about the proposed detrimental effects that video games and tablets can have on kids, and start focusing on how we can better offer spaces for learning and development in ways that kids can get excited about.—Julia Miller