Last night I found myself in the grip of a nightmare. In my dream, a Woman dressed like a Victorian widow was drowning me under a sheet of thick, impenetrable ice. Before that, I’d had a series of other nightmares involving a fire, a group of shadow-like stick figures slashing me with long nails and an attack by large tanks aimed at either shooting me or squashing me, whichever came first.
However, in a lucid state of dreaming, I was able to call on a ‘Dream Guardian’ of sorts, who furnished me with a magical suit of armour that allowed me to beat all of the challenges. I ‘burst’ the spindly shadow-men with a blast of light, I doused the fire with water, and I disabled the tanks with a single punch.
Yep, imagination is a powerful thing.
That’s what worries me about tablets for kids. When I was a little boy, we played Sega Mega Drive, but I also had a leftover 70’s Pocket Simon that I adored. Mostly however, it was playing with toys that allowed me to foster and develop the natural imagination that I now use every day in my other life as a contemporary fiction writer.
I immersed myself in comics, books and ghost stories and, in the process, found a career path that felt right to me (although, looking back, I probably should have paid attention in maths and been a banker).
Today’s kids, growing up with tablet PCs, video games and blockbuster movies, may not have as much need for an imagination, or at least, that’s what sometimes bothers me. I worry that kids who grow up with ‘interactive literature’ at their disposal, might become deathly bored with ‘grown up’ literature when they come of age, and that they might even grow to reject the printed word outright. Not only does ‘Crime & Punishment’ not have pictures, but the only options for playable mini games would have to be desperately macabre.
Pedantic and repetitive explanations don’t necessarily teach children to use computers, either. Anybody can do anything if they have someone telling them over and over again how to do it. So, with more and more interactive toys and less and less cause to take up a cardboard box and ‘just add wonder’, it is easy to play a prophet of doom to a predicted generation of mindless kids, most of whom don’t know how to actually be kids anymore.
However, in my capacity as a tech reviewer, I’ve found considerable cause to hope for better. After extensively reviewing the latest crop of kid’s tablet PCs, I’ve actually found them to be, potentially, an exceptionally useful learning tool. In fact, provided that they are used as part of a ‘balanced diet’ (that also includes traditional picture books, regular play and stimulating creative exercises), a children’s tablet can be a really enriching product.
With literally hundreds of apps available for cheap download, kids tablets can offer anything from reading and writing programs, to maths, elementary science and even foreign languages. The sheer variety available on tablets like the VTech Innolab or the Leapfrog LeapPad is actually amazing. Some of these tablets (such as the LeapPad) even have specially designed operating systems that give children a basic introduction to the underpinnings of MAC OS, Windows, or Android.
In fact, there’s a lot to be said for interactive activities being better than more enriching than ‘passive’ activities like watching TV. Of course, there will be those parents who don’t take the time to use the tablets with their children, but those parents are no different from those who use the TV as an all-purpose babysitter or those parents who never make the time to read to their children.
However, if you want your child to gain a basic grasp of computers and have access to an array of interactive learning facilities, then I can honestly say that you could do a lot worse than getting a kid’s tablet.
In moderation a children’s tablet can be a passport to excitement, adventure and a high degree of preschool learning. Remember though, I said moderation. Drawing, writing, reading and traditional play are still very much number one in my opinion.
After all, without a little imagination, the adult world can be one nightmare after another.