*This is my follow up post to “What age should a child start to use a PC?”
I’m as old as Microsoft Windows (C) 1985 but I was only able to use the computer when I was in the 5th Grade in Elementary school, I was 11 years old and Windows 95 was the latest version of Windows back then. I enrolled along with my best friend in computer tutorial classes during weekends. We were taught the basics of using the computer, Windows and Microsoft Office. It was fun and it did started my love affair with the computer and eventually the Internet but in the back of my mind I always asked myself each and every time I completed a task, like closing a window, opening Word, or renaming a folder, the question, “What now? Or “Okay, what’s next?” The computer was just there on the table in front of me. Even today with my top-of-the-line (3 years ago) computer I still ask the same question after I hit the publish button on my blog, saved a document, fired up WinAmp etc. The computer would do nothing else unless I command it so.
Before that first encounter with the computer, I grew up playing with LEGO, and other building blocks of different brand names. I even played with blocks of wood left over whenever my father had a home construction project. I never enjoyed the toy soldiers, cars, plastic swords and toy robots with guns complete with sound effects and lights even the recorded voices of soldiers dying, exploding to bits or calling my playmate “motherf*cker” or a “Commie[communist] bast*rd” (yes, my cousin was once given a toy robot from the US, for his birthday that played war sounds with those dirty words in the recorded dialogue) it was cool but shocking really.
Going back to my LEGO, I had the habit of loosing the instruction booklet for putting together the LEGO set given to me every Christmas (until now I still buy a set or two) when I was younger, I had to improvise and really flex my brain to figure out how to put the many blocks and pieces together so that they would look like the finished set that is pictured in the box. The toughest challenge that I remember was putting together that set that was modeled on the space shuttle and its launch pad + control tower. It took me and my father a whole day just to get it right, and since I lost the instruction booklet again. Actually, by lunch time, my father gave up and left me all alone. Determined to finish with the assembly and with only the picture on the box as my guide and reference I slaved over the rest of the day assembling the LEGO set using the trial-and-error method. Eventually I succeeded in putting it together the way it should be. It was a major achievement for I was only 8 years old back then.
I believe that playing with LEGO is what started me in the habit of talking to my self. I would always play alone with my LEGO sets when I was young and do small scenes of battles, parades or construction projects with blocks and pieces. I’d improvise and come up with my own designs, put together a bunch of pieces until it resembled a ship, a city, a space station or a submarine at least to my eyes, and I’m a happy child for the rest of the day.
I was so immersed in my own ‘little world’ that my aunt once thought that I had lost my sanity since I was frequently talking to my self while her son, my cousin a year older than me, was all quite playing with his GameBoy (the original model). Years later we would grow up and go to school together, to our family, and my aunt’s amazement, I, who spent my childhood days playing with plastic and wooden blocks and talking to my self in a corner did better and excelled over my cousin who spent his growing up years honing his cut-throat skill of button mashing and a mastery of the GameBoy and other electronic devices like the VHS player and the SEGA console. Don’t forget though that I was the weird one. 😉
From this experience, I dare say that electronic gadgets will do little to help a child nourish his creative, analytical and imaginative mind. It molded my cousin to rely on a few buttons to get things done. The sort of “instant noodles” mentality, just add hot water or in this case just click this and push that and viola! You now have a meal or some desired effect, no more hard labor and no more need to flex your mind. It may be old fashioned, nontechnological, and even primitive, I’d still recommend that a child play with traditional toys that would require and encourage them not to just push a single button, but to utilize and stimulate their full mental and physical capacities. Experience after all, is still the best teacher.
From the comments on the previous post, I agree that in our age, it is a big plus that children learn how to use the computer and gadgets for it will indeed give them an advantage someday, but not at the expense of creative, analytical and imaginative development. Just imagine if they will grow up on pressing keys and mouse-clicks and once the electricity is out or the machine breaks down, what now?