Watching my almost 3 yr. old granddaughter interact with my iPhone and my computer has made me realize that the world for her is filled with objects that respond to her. It is not a silent and still world, but one that can be manipulated simply by touching a screen or pushing a button. She looks for the button to push or the part to tap to make those responses happen.
I got an app for the phone called Bubbles, a very straightforward game where a drag of your finger creates a line of blue bubbles. Then a tap on the screen makes them pop, with very satisfying sound effects. When I first showed it to her, holding the phone and giving her instructions on how it worked, Natalie pushed down very firmly on the screen, trying to force it to happen, which made the game less responsive. She clearly got frustrated with the game, because she couldn’t make it work. Listening to me give her tips only seemed to make it worse. She went away and did something else, then came back and asked for the Bubbles again.
This time I let her hold the phone herself. She climbed up on the bed and lay down on her stomach with the phone in front of her, the only one who could see it. There was silence for a few moments and then her leg began bouncing up and down. Still silence. Then “Popping Bubbles, Nana!” She turned around with a big smile on her face. Away from direct instruction and watching eyes, she figured it out herself.
It is an expected thing in her world that she can drag pieces across Nana’s screen to put together the puzzle. She is not surprised, much less awed, that the bubbles pop or the wheels of the bus turn around when she taps them. The objects in her world interact with her all the time. And unlike in past generations of toys, the tools that surround her draw out her imagination and creativity, rather than do it all for her. She has to explore and test at every level. It is a very different understanding of the world and your place in it when change is not simply based on one’s own actions, but on the reactions of the technology that surrounds you. Growth happens when you and your tools work together. What that means for educating this generation is fascinating to consider.