Ivy had an educational technology breakthrough last week: she learned to use the computer mouse. Apparently this is not evidence of prodigy status, as there is already a booming market for toddler-targeted software. The article isn't particularly well written, and I found the idea of parents spending $2.8 billion on educational toys (including multimedia) sort of repulsive. Overzealous moms collecting every Baby Einstein title and talking about the importance of a good college for their 16-MONTH-old's future...isn't it all a bit disgusting?
Pushing very young children into predefined learning activities seemed rather odious, but that first impression may not be entirely fair. And the definitions of pushing and learning are tricky. I spend a lot of time online, and my two-year-old wants to participate, so we've found a few things that we enjoy doing together online. It's certainly learning -- play and learning are completely intertwined. I had shown Ivy how to use the mouse a couple of times before, and she enjoyed zooming it around the mousepad for its own sake, but had never made the connection between the physical motion and what was happening on the screen. The week before in the SuperDuperDolphin game, she suddenly understood that the dolphin did tricks when she clicked on the pail of fish, but she couldn't figure out how to move the cursor over the pail.
Last week's breakthrough came while playing a Flash activity called Sing-a-Song Clay-Along from the Disney empire (see screenshot). It's a simple piano with four characters, one of whom is performing at any given time. I gave her the mouse and showed her how to click the button again, then let her loose on the virtual keyboard. She was concentrating intensely, but smiling when the character would sing different notes as she clicked the keys. Then I asked her to try getting the pig to sing, and she slowly moved the cursor over the pig and clicked...then went back to the piano and started clicking virtual keys. Oink, OINK, oink...to her great delight.
I suppose this is happening for young kids all over the world these days, and shouldn't be a big deal. But for someone who believes in the power of the web to transform learning and knowledge, it seemed like a significant milestone -- a symbol of the online access Ivy will have to ideas, entertainment and other people throughout her life. She won't remember the first time she used a computer, mouse or software...it's just part of her environment. I wrote a bit about Ivy's favourite online activity from her pre-mousing days: The Snake Game, using me as a guide and the Google image search as her playground. It's a great way to spend time, but her new skill gives her more control over the world...well, the virtual world, anyway.
I guess I have this vague sense of lingering guilt that she's too young to be sucked into the digital vortex, but I think that's the Luddite in me. These things she's experiencing online are more interactive than anything she'll see on TV, and allow her more control to create, explore and manipulate than any reading session might offer. But $3.8 billion is just ridiculous -- one of the coolest things about the web is that this stuff is all free.