21st-century skills

Whether it's babies' facile fingers or tweens' curious minds, toys and media that promote exploration, experimentation and open-ended thinking are key to developing future creative thinkers.
August 17, 2011

Even digital natives need to turn on lights

I recently played with some of the newest 2011 LeapFrog products. Since numerous reviews have already been written about the merits (or not) of the well-priced LeapPad, I’m not going to waste space by adding to the debate. Suffice it to say this is a great product with a finite repertoire. Overall, what impressed me more than the actual products I saw, was the way 21st century skills were seamlessly woven into the play.

Play is how kids learn (do I say this every week?). Whether it’s babies’ facile fingers, or tweens’ curious minds, toys and media that promote exploration, experimentation, and open-ended thinking are key to developing future creative thinkers.

LeapFrog’s My Discovery House, appropriately geared for six- to 36-month old kids, has combined a variety of elements in a lightweight, house-shaped “activity box.” Heavy (maybe a little too heavy), on songs and sounds, the House activities range from the more mundane sliding open windows to the original turning of a faucet. Day and night modes offer different routines. More abstract concepts such as opposites and short stories are also included.

However, what I loved most were the simple things—a realistic light switch that made the windows and lamp glow; a ding-dong doorbell; a white refrigerator that had food inside (next version, will the fridge be stainless steel?). These are actual skills that kids—digital natives or not— need to know. By presenting them in a fun way, kids can (and will) click and press and open and shut ad nauseum.

Likewise, the LeapPad. No matter what its shortcomings, it is a realistic-looking, sturdy touch-screen tablet with fun games, a camera and video, and tons of add-on activities. Whether it’s a precursor to their own iPad, or a toy du jour, the act of navigating a touch pad for fun and/or functionality teaches kids how to effectively use a 21st tool despite what’s on the screen. In other words, the medium is just as important as the message.

LeapFrog's My Discovery House lets kids turn on the lights, ring the doorbell, and raid the refrigerator

Email me at wendy@sandboxsummit.org about any great products you’ve seen lately.

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