Thursday, December 15, 2005

Electronics for Babies

Today's New York Times has an article about the growing trend of designing and marketing electronic toys for younger and younger children.

Quite frankly, this trend scares the crap out of me. The human brain is not something that we are born with, it is something that has to be developed. If you use a portion of your brain, it will grow new synapses to handle that sort of experience. If you deprive a kid of a particular sort of experience, their brain will never bother to develop the synapses that helps him be good at that sort of experience.

I'm not talking about little experiences. I'm talking about the big categories: language development, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, social skills. We know that the greatest age for brain growth is before age three, when kids are practicing all of these things constantly. If you don't get these skills, especially language, by age 4, you have little chance of learning them later. Babies and toddlers should be learning the skills of navigating the 3 dimensional world, and driving their parents nuts doing it.

You simply can't learn those things by relating to the 2-D "screen world" of TVs and video interfaces. The content may be "educational" but the content is immaterial. What is going to happen to kids who can push buttons but can't read a person's body language or throw a rock to hit the broad side of a barn?

People admire my two great teenagers and ask me all the time how I raised such smart kids. My answer -- which they don't want to hear -- is "No TV." We kept our TV in the closet until the 1991 Gulf War and the kids amused themselves just fine. They played with marbles and Fisher Price people. They had cats who wore doll clothes and a dog who played hide and seek. They made bread with me and trained chickens for a "circus". They dug holes in the yard. Our house was messy, the yard was full of toys, and there was writing on the wall.

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