Maren Schmidt: Centuries of fun |

Maren Schmidt: Centuries of fun

Maren Schmidt

The group of 10-year-olds sat absorbed, thumbs moving. Each played an individual game on his cell phone.

During the past few years, I keep noticing this phenomena of groups of children who elect to be connected to their electronic games when there are "live knowledge objects," previously known as "people," sitting right next to them.

The electronic games are seductive, and they have been programmed to hold your interest.

Research shows that to keep our attention, input needs to be novel, interesting and change every nine minutes.

Although many computer games can hold a person's interest for a long time, these games are not building up true concentration.

What we want to help develop is one period of 90 minutes of self-generated activities versus 10 periods of nine-minutes reacting to screen stimuli. Many electronic games don't allow for pondering over strategy.

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You stop, you lose.

Games such as chess, where each move is considered along with its possible repercussions, are not your typical electronic pastimes.

There are millions of fans of electronic games, and I'm sure they think that I am an old fuddy-duddy. I'm the first to admit it. I'm an old fuddy-duddy who is concerned about how children learn and the long-term effects of what and how children learn.

We know there are learned qualities that contribute to a lifetime of well-being. Self-regulation, concentration, focus and confident decision-making are among the characteristics of people who enjoy their lives and help others enjoy theirs.

Games that help develop these skills need to be encouraged. Unplugged games, such as chess and checkers, strategic card games such as hearts, poker or bridge, to the more physical games of jump rope to basketball, contribute in multi-faceted ways to the develop of important skills.

One resource for ideas is "Unplugged Play" by Bobbi Conners. This book offers hundreds of pages of ideas of activities for the toddler to the teen, from crafts to board games.

A coffee table game that also can be tucked into a backpack is the tangram. This Chinese puzzle of seven pieces can be moved to form hundreds of shapes. A small wooden tangram can provide hours of fun for a 6-year-old or a 60-year-old.

A children's book, "Grandfather Tang's Story" by Ann Tompert, with illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker, tells a story with tangrams.

As Grandfather Tang tells the story, he moves the seven pieces of the tangrams to form foxes, rabbits, dogs, a squirrel, a lion, a duck and more. This book, told with an adult moving puzzle pieces to form the next character, is great, unplugged fun.

Another tangram book is "Tangrams 330 Puzzles" by Ronald C. Read. This book contains the history of the tangram and plenty of puzzles to solve.

I hope these ideas for old-fashioned fun will help some children disconnect from their phones and use more than their thumbs and eyes to learn and play.

Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues. Maren Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has more than 25 years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Building Cathedrals Not Walls: Essays for Parents and Teachers. Contact her at or visit Copyright 2010.

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