Question adult fears, not childhood

29th September 2006 at 01:00
Following the recent debate about "childhood today", I was saddened to hear so many voices support former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo in condemning the "virtual play" of electronic games.

My six-year-old son and I get great pleasure from playing video games together. Using a game called Age of Mythology, we recently brought Homer's Odyssey to life. My son built the islands, placed the man-eating cyclops Polyphemus in his cave, watched the ships sail and called the storm that blew them off course. After I first engaged him in playing video games, his basic literacy and numeracy skills soared almost overnight.

To learn, children need a motive and games can provide this. To construct games, my son has to find units such as Odysseus and Gateway to Hades from an alphabetical list of more than 500 items. When playing a game, he reads text advice on the screen, writes messages to opponents and works out sums, such as how many triremes one can build if each requires five units of wood and he only has 13 units.

When he began playing war games, he always rushed in quickly, only to be defeated by the computer. He has learned to build up resources, scout out the ground and plan a campaign. As an educationist, I wish I could bring the benefits of this and other wonderful games into schools so that others could share the leg-up into literacy, numeracy and thinking skills that video games have provided for my son.

Rupert Wegerif

Professor of education

University of Exeter

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