Are video games squashing your child’s creativity?
Some teachers think so. One shared a story about asking a student for a “real-life” example: a topic besides his favorite video game.
“In real life, I played Minecraft,” the student replied.
To write, draw, speak and play, students go back to what they know, says kindergarten teacher Mary Coppola. And what they know, more and more, is video games.
“I see this in artwork, conversation and dramatic play,” Coppola says. “I worry that increased screen time may limit critical thinking and problem-solving.”
Coppola turned to her colleagues at Community School of Davidson, a public charter in North Carolina, including an art teacher, an occupational therapist and a speech pathologist. All have similar concerns, and share their perspectives here, as well as nonscreen-based holiday gift ideas.
“The students play Minecraft on the playground, talk about it at lunchtime and write about it any chance they get,” says Taisia Mills, lead elementary art teacher at the school. “Even if their art has nothing to do with video games, it worms its way in. Primary-color squares and rectangles [become] a Minecraft guy. Storytelling art in sequential order becomes the story of a Minecraft guy.”
Kristin Clewell, an occupational therapist at the school, agrees that video games are limiting creative connections: “I have noticed an increasing number of students are only able to make up stories related to characters from technology sources, and need much more prompting to expand to other areas of interest.”
Another significant problem, the OT says: More time spent on video games means kids are spending less time playing outside in activities that develop core muscle strength, visual abilities and problem-solving skills.
Typical development begins with trunk muscles and moves outward to arms, hands and legs. Without good core strength, the fine-motor skills necessary for handwriting and other skills are slower to develop.
“When children sit on the couch with video games and technology, they are not activating trunk muscles. They use the same repetitive finger motions,” Clewell says.
Also, handheld video games that are used near the child’s face utilize only near vision. Outside games, such as hide and seek and capture the flag, require a balance of both near and far vision, Clewell says. This balance of vision is required to complete school activities such as copying from the board and taking notes.
Instead of video games, Clewell suggests open-ended toys that don’t have a specific outcome, such as building toys, pretend play props, art supplies or a trampoline to get moving. Other ideas: Wooden marble runs, pogo sticks, juggling toys, construction sets such as Contraptions by Mindware, and Snap Circuits sets by Elenco Electronics.
Patty Quillinan, a speech pathologist, says she’s particularly interested in collaborative activities such as board games and reading to promote socialization and stimulate language skills. Books top of her list of gift recommendations for children.
“The cuddle-up time to share an adventure is priceless,” she says. “Vocabulary, sound awareness, sequencing and discussion are available on every page.”
Even with a board game as simple as Candy Land, Quillinan says, kids learn to interact with a friend or adult, keep a goal in mind, resist distractions and inhibit impulsive choices. Monopoly and Clue are good games for planning and working memory – keeping information in mind while you complete the game. Checkers, Chinese checkers and chess sharpen many skills as well, she says.
Art teacher Mills favors gifts that foster connections and creativity. Her suggestions:
• ZOOB click-together, bendable toys by Infinitoy; blocks; Lincoln Logs; any Melissa and Doug wooden structures.
• Legos, minus the directions.
• A camera paired with a nature photography book.
• Season tickets to shows or discovery centers for children.
• Gift certificates to parent-child classes such as Zumba, paddleboarding or yoga.
• Nature equipment such as a fishing pole, kayak, bug jar, butterfly net or a bag of flower bulbs with a trowel.
• A book about constellations and journal for mapping discoveries.