3.19.2012

Unschoolers may play video games all day, a NY school does

Little Big Planet/Wikimedia Commons
Several recent news stories on unschooling, including the GMA fiasco in April, have alleged that unschoolers may play video games all day, every day, with the presumption that this would be a bad thing.

U.S. Homeschooling Examiner Marie-Claire Moreau described the Good Morning America piece as "...nothing more than a video of some kids playing video games and snacking on doughnuts, while the narration explains that unschooling is a fast-growing trend of allowing school-aged kids to do whatever they want (a/k/a not much)."

My eldest unschooling daughter does play video games all day, some days. She does a lot of other stuff, too.

Virtually all kids nowadays are growing up surrounded by interactive media and other electronic technologies. Inspired by other kids, my daughter wanted to host her own online show, so we figured out how to do it.


However, while I share my daughter's enthusiasm for putting together episodes of "Maia's Show," I haven't really felt personally drawn to video games (except for a short-lived period of "excessive" playing of Faunasphere). Nonetheless, I stand by a belief in the worth and usefulness of playing video games.

...not to mention that my husband works in the video games industry as a game programmer. Yes, he's a star in the eyes of the neighborhood children.

I watch my daughters (and my husband) seek out games that simulate things they want to do, such as fashion design, mystery investigation, and world exploration. My daughters are the ones interested in fashion design, although I see my husband doing quite a bit of dress-up on his game characters, too.

World of Warcraft

An article in the debut issue of Rethinking Everything Magazine cemented my belief in the positive potential of playing video games. Grown-up unschooler Quinn Eaker, in his article, "How a Video Game Changed My Life and Awakened the Business Genius Within," said:
"I had no idea that one of the greatest passions in my life would come in the form of a video game or that it would completely change how my brain computed and processed information. This is one of the most important inner processes I have had to date. I love telling this story so much because it is one that is so commonly soiled with negative beliefs."
Eaker goes on to tell the story of his "excessive" immersion in World of Warcraft and how his experiences in the virtual world affected the rest of his life.

As an aside, the World of Warcraft website profiled a mother who plays WoW with her unschooling children as part of a guild called "Horde of Unschoolers."

As I mentioned, I had my own unlikely un-sabbatical video game period with Faunasphere, so I, the non-gamer, personally related to Eaker's article about gaming. In addition to my own gaming experience, growing numbers of scientific studies, as well as my own observation of my family, support the positives of playing video games.

In the post on my video game period, I referenced an article about video games as learning tools, including some specific learning goals that can take place via playing games:
  • Reading and learning new words
  • Thinking logically and creatively
  • Observing carefully
  • Planning strategies
  • Following maps
  • Working together as a team

Video Games in Schools

Even schools are beginning to take notice. A public school in New York has based its curriculum on video games of both the educational and recreational variety.

Quest to Learn (Q2L), a New York public school set to open next month is the first American school to center its curriculum around video games such as Little Big Planet and Civilization. Katie Salen, who conceived the program, said, "From day one, kids should imagine themselves as designers of their own learning."

Katie Salen is a a professor of design and technology at Parsons the New School for Design and the executive director of the Institute of Play.

A New Way of Educating

Rather than study individual subjects, Q2L students will attend 90-minute curriculum "domains," including Codeworlds, The Way Things Work, Being, Space and Place, and Wellness. Students will take the same standardized tests as other public school students.

"We are deeply interested in creating a school where kids actually love learning," said Salen.

See alsoVideo games more effective than teachers.

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