All Day Every Day Video Game Learning

All day, every day video game based schooling. Great.

A Popular Science article (print version, Jan 2010) extolls the virtues of a recently opened school in Manhattan designed around a  spanking new videogame curricula. Called Quest to Learn (Q2L) the school is heavily funded by interests (such as Intel) outside the NYC school district. And yes, every subject is taught via the medium of video games.

Another oh-gosh-isn’t-this-fabulous article appeared in the mass market magazine Parade and the flurry of media attention continues to accelerate. Soon every school child will be agitating to replace the boredom of classwork with the excitement of gaming.

Their eagerness will be nothing compared to the frenzy of those who make Big Decisions in education. Anything having to do with technology seems to make these folks feel they’re finally hip. Actually, they toss money at any curricula that promises to keep the little darlings quiet, busy and able to pass proficiency tests. In a few years you won’t be able to spit without hitting a school district boasting a version of this all day, every day video game schooling. Just great.

Q2L sounds impressive. Designed by the (soon to be rolling in bucks) Institute of Play, its curricula isn’t structured around ordinary educational games. Learning is integrated between subjects, offers hands-on components and promises to put the student in charge of his or her education. Q2L promotional materials assure parents their kids won’t be glassy-eyed screen droolers. But, and this is a huge but, it’s all day, every day.

Research tells us that high quality video games are known to promote rapid decision-making, logic, visual-spatial skills, risk assessment and intense focus. Author Steven Johnson notes in Everything Bad is Good for You that today’s technologies offer complex intellectual challenges that engage students in ways never before seen. All great. Except for a little thing we call balance.

Candy substituted for every meal, even with all the required vitamins, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids packed into it by a clever non-profit candy making institute, may make kids wildly happy but it still isn’t a real meal. An all day video gaming educational model may be new, shiny and sound perfectly thrilling but without balance it’s simply another way to train the next generation of workers to ignore the vital need for balance in their lives.

A truly balanced education is one that can’t be prescribed or predetermined by any curricula developer because each child is different. That’s that beauty of Democractic Schools, relaxed styles of homeschooling and unschooling. Those of us who educate this way know from experience that children, when raised in an atmosphere of loving trust and fully involved in the life of the community around them, tend naturally toward balance.

Video games may indeed be a wonderful way to learn but not all day, every day. They can be part of a wider concept of education.  It would be wonderful to see schools reverse the trends that have segregated and stymied the maturation of young people ever since modernization forced them into mandatory schooling.

For starters, today’s students could use a whole lot more of these missing elements to restore balance in each educational day.

Play. Not the sort of play that happens on carefully designed liability-friendly playgrounds or within the limits of       supervised games, but unstructured free play.  This sort of fun is actually essential for the development of imagination and innovative thinking as well as social and cognitive maturation.

Creative, hands-on engagement in open-ended work. The high scoring Icelandic and Finnish schools that keep our educational Big Deciders in a jealous froth aren’t test happy. Instead they include daily arts such as knitting, woodwork and felting while U.S. school kids rarely get to work with metal or wood in shop class let alone have the opportunity to paint at an easel.

Pursuit of interests. There may be no greater motivator than the ability to engage in one’s interests for hours, days, weeks or longer plus the freedom to move on when those interests are depleted.

Community involvement. Schools segregate young people from vibrant adults in the community precisely at the developmental stages when kids are primed to imitate, help and adhere to role models. No rote field trip or Skype interview can come close to collaboration and engagement in the real world around them.

Nature. People of all ages are missing out on the invigorating and focusing effects of spending regular time in nature.  Most of us suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder without recognizing how much is missing from our lives.  Even our eyes indicate that we’re intrinsically structured to be outdoors. New research indicates children who spend more time outdoors are much less likely to need eyeglasses. Something about the intensity of sunlight or the benefits of looking across wide open spaces seems to be a protective factor.

All day, every day video game based schooling. Another example of an educational trend taken too far in one direction. How great is that?



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7 thoughts on “All Day Every Day Video Game Learning

  1. Pingback: Carnival of Homeschooling: Winter in Idaho Edition | Life Nurturing Education

  2. Pingback: Waiting For Superman, Really? « Laura Grace Weldon

  3. Well, as a person completely disinterested in video games – they simply make my head want to explode – I am really glad that you make a case for values I share, such as community involvement and and hanging out in nature. I don’t have anything against video games per se, just the fact that many people I know, of all ages, find them addicting and spend hours and hours at them. Anything that gets us out of balance is probably not a great idea, and how anyone can think that participating in such gaming all day, every day can be a good thing is simply beyond me. We are complex creatures who need variety. . .


  4. I am also totally disinterested in gaming and share in your views regarding creating balance. On the other hand, I have a 15 yr old homeschooler who loves gaming. I feel I have been conscientious with limits, restrictions when needed — we never owned a gaming console until he was 15. He had to work for it all. Long story short, my resourceful son started with a Gameboy, then sold it for a DS, upgraded to another DS, then sold everything including all games to his past gadgets for an ipod touch. He worked on an organic farm and gradually bought what he wanted. Now, he has his xbox. I have encouraged balance and self regulation since I have NEVER had success enforcing rules and taking away privileges, just more secretive gaming and texting. Even when he didn’t have any gadgets or consoles, every friend he had did. I would say in the last 5 years, we have become increasing dependent and encouraged to be technologically savvy. I resent the way the media manipulates our lives where it’s hard to do anything without joining social networks, since everything these days is tied into it. What is happening to us? With every new invention, better graphics, faster speed, intuitive functions, more apps….. life has become so much more complicated by these so-called tools to help us manage and enhance our lives. I’m so glad this didn’t happen when I was 15. Our children are up against SO much in the future. As many pros as there are with technology, I cannot help but feel cranky, archaic, and anti-green for saying I was perfectly happy with my datebook, files, paper bills, writing letters on pretty stationery, talking on phones that didn’t burn my cheek, reading a bound book, and keeping my life to myself instead of on my wall.
    Technology and gaming are a part of our culture now. I try to work on my prejudices, but I admit it is really difficult. All I can do is to keep the dialogue alive between my son and myself and encourage other forms of engagement. He is a really great kid and I want him to come to his own conclusions.


    • I just typed you a long reply only to have it lost in cyberspace. Apparently the Internet does not like to be dissed!

      I think it’s most pivotal to limit screen time (tv, iPad, whatever) in the early years. There’s plenty of research demonstrating harm. If nothing else, it deprives kids of essential sensory motor development, free play, conversation, etc. I may have been an extremist on this issue, but when my kids were under two they had no screen time. Until they were five or six, only a few hours a week of public television programming.

      In the middle years, say five to eleven or twelve, I think it’s important to demonstrate balance and to uphold that with simple household rules everyone follows. In our family we kept pretty firmly to no screen time during the day. Some exceptions were made for educational use but not many. It’s just as easy to watch a documentary in the evening with the whole family. I am in the minority in this opinion compared to my friends. I’m fine with that. Television and video games are created using complex findings from neuroscience, overstimulating and at the same time much more limited than the more subtle engagement of nature, art, creative play, relationships, and the rest of what we call the real world.

      In the teen years, too much heavy-handed parenting just causes friction. When we have good kids, as you clearly do, giving them more freedom to make choices just makes sense. Of course we encourage them to get engaged in volunteering, projects, and socializing, which my kids do, but let’s admit it, much of today’s teen life takes place online. My teenagers have made friends with people around the world via gaming. I am outside of that experience and in my own Luddite way prefer face to face friendships, but I have to admit, I’m terribly impressed that they talk regularly with people in Iceland, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany, and so many other places, and not just about gaming. And yes, I also rely on my kids’ expertise to help me with the phone, computer, and other ways the connected world works.


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