Video games don't leave time for learning to code
There was a time when video games and programming shared children’s leisure time equally. They found satisfaction in both activities and in a natural way they found time to do both with important benefits for them. However, today, this balance has been broken, unbalancing the development of key skills for children.
In the 80s, with the arrival of computers to our homes, children wanted to have a Spectrum to play with. Only a few of us make it. In a way, it was like today’s consoles. Only they had twice the functionality. The consoles are exclusively for gaming. The Spectrum, in addition to playing games, served to learn to program. And both were just as fun!
At this point in the 21st century, everyone knows the benefits of learning to code for children. Just in case, we remember some of them:
- improves attention span and concentration
- increases autonomy and interest in experimentation and learning
- increases order and comprehension capacity
- improves calculation and logic capacity
- improves the process of thinking and solving problems (computational thinking)
- favors creativity
- improves tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty
- develop self-confidence
All these improvements occur at least in those subjects that can be approached from the point of view of programming as neuroscience reminds us.
Of course, seen like this, what parents would not sign their children learned to program and get all those benefits as a reward?
The reality is quite different. As much as parents like that their children benefit from this learning, it is not yet a learning included in the curriculum, nor is it a subject of most cabbages, nor is it an extra activity that children ask for making after school, nor is it something they do at home.
It is clear that learning to program has a series of benefits in certain contexts. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits is that having to live with so much technology, learning to code allows them to know it and better understand the context to adapt to it. And that in the times of Youtube, TikTok and consoles, children spend significantly more time consuming contents than creating them. Perhaps it is necessary to go a little beyond the current proposals or how they are used. In the 80s, everyone who had a Spectrum played and coded, because as I said it was just as fun. Not today.
Video games and coding
Let’s look at some examples of platforms for children from +7 years old, although the list is longer and starts at a younger age.
Lego and all its robotic variants. It is possibly the manufacturer with the largest implementation of educational robotics in the world. Both at the school level and at the extra-school level. Contests at geographic levels, clubs, etc. However, this implementation in the educational field is not reflected in the home. You can take a poll and you will see that what I am saying is true. Start with your children. Has he ever asked you for a Lego Mindstorm as a gift? If you have given it to him, do you remember how many times he has played with it in the last 3 months? Expand the spectrum of your study and check with your friends to see if the pattern is the same. Maybe your child is part of the minority that has a Lego Mindstorm at home, but he is that, a minority.
Scratch. It is undoubtedly the platform to learn to program most used in schools around the world. It is a platform based on visual blocks. Developed by MIT. Behind it is a large community of enthusiasts who share their projects, mainly teachers. Check back with your children. If your children are over 10 years old, they may even answer that they have seen it at school (maybe US is an exception). Do you know that it is a free platform that can run on any device with a browser? And so the question would be, why have I never seen my kids using it at home?
Arduino. Open source platform focused on facilitating the use of electronics and, by extension, robotics. Leader in implementation in the technology classrooms of all schools in the world mainly due to its low cost. The Python programming language is usually used, so it is aimed at slightly older children. If you haven’t seen blue electronic boards at home, you don’t even need to ask your children.
Roblox / Minecraft. They are mainly video games. But they have the function of allowing you to build your own video games in a simple way but with the same appearance as the original. That is, it gives you tools so that in its world you can build your own scenarios. It’s like programming but with the feeling of playing. Perhaps Roblox sounds more to you since it is currently more fashionable than Minecraft. Also, it is free unlike Minecraft. There are some very enthusiastic kids on Roblox. The question in this case is: do you play or build?
All these tools are very good to obtain the benefits that we mentioned at the beginning, if they used them assiduously. Also, we would like to break a spear in favor of video games. Much has been written about the negative correlation between playing hours and academic results. It can be true as long as those hours are abused. With balanced use, action video games have been shown to have the most cognitive benefits. Playing this type of video game improves sustained, selective and divided attention; increases brain processing speed and therefore improves skills in pressure situations. Regular players also show better visual perceptual ability, better spatial orientation, better sensorimotor coordination, more memory, and greater ability to adapt to change.
In other words, the benefits of playing video games and learning to program are complementary. Unlike the 80s and the Spectrum where there was a balance between gaming and programming, today this is clearly unbalanced towards gaming. So a better balance would be desirable.
An explanation may come from the fact of the novelty. In the 80s, computers and video games were very cool. We not only wanted to play but we wanted to know how that was done and when we grow up we wished to be video game programmers because it was cool. Anything we were able to draw in the screen with weird commands was amazing.
Today, this has changed. Cool is very ephemeral. We trick the brain with immediate rewards that generate a need of greater playtime to overcome the previous reward. It is a satisfaction / dissatisfaction similar to that produced by social networks or drugs. With so much time to play it’s hard to find time for other things.
There is a possible explanation to that the previous platforms are not a success in the homes and do not have a gap between the consoles. Looking at the nature of these, it can be seen that both Lego Mindstorms and Arduino have a very mechatronics and electronics approach, which is obviously not very attractive for the vast majority. Scratch is a programming tool but it lacks the game part. And Roblox is a video game that overshadows the creation part, that is, the video game part generates more reward than the creative part for what we mentioned earlier.
At Aisoy we think that a mixed approach based on social robots would be the current strategy that would provide that balance between both activities. It would be the equivalent of computers and video games of the 80s.
The vast majority of people are drawn to movies’ robots that are not like the Lego Mindstorms robots: which are very good as just robots but they are not like the ones in the movies. Now you don’t have to ask your children, ask yourself. Of the robots you remember from the movies, how many of them couldn’t communicate with people. Exactly. That is the key. We like robots that we can interact with. Those are called social robots.
On the other hand, we feel identified with the characters in video games (it depends on the story). Creating them today is complicated. It is an arduous task. It has a high learning curve. It is difficult to have the motivation to learn it. But what child has not dreamed of getting into the role of those characters.
Social robots like Aisoy KiK satisfies these two concerns. It is a robot that allows you to easily create real characters and interact with them. Characters from games, stories, theater, storytellers, that come to life in the hands of your children. The possibilities of these tools are as many as the different narratives that a child can imagine.