As virtual worlds for kids like Club Penguin and Webkinz continue to multiply (it seems like every toy company is launching one), I continue to get a lot of questions from parents about both the educational value of these websites for children as well as concern about screen time. With Sesame Workshop, Disney and Noggin all launching sites for preschoolers, these are legitimate questions to be asking. While I don’t have the answers, I did find this article in the Boston Globe about a researcher at Tufts who has developed an online experience for 11-16 year olds with some of these questions in mind. From the article:
Marina Bers, who last year was among 20 US scientists to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in a ceremony at the White House, is pioneering technology that marries two independent disciplines – child development and computer technology. From the former, she brings the widely accepted tradition of Jean Piaget, which posits that children learn best by interacting with their world. From her mentor at MIT, Seymour Papert, comes the theory known as constructionism, that if children create their own technology they will learn more than if they simply swallow information technology spits out. The software she created is called Zora. Children’s Hospital Boston is using it in a pilot project where 22 transplant patients, ages 11 to 16, log on daily from around the country to build a virtual community (Interestingly, she limits her three children ages 3, 7 and 4 to less than an hour a week in front of the computer).
If you are in the Los Angeles area, you should check out this panel discussion I am participating in organized by Common Sense Media and The MacArthur Foundation about kids and virtual worlds. It’s free, but you have to register beforehand.