Game brain

I am a teacher. For nine years I taught grade two children at a government school attended by children from mostly middleclass households. As is often the case for teachers, I got to know the children in my class really well. I am passionate about reading and I very much believe that children need to hear a lot of language for them to be able to read it. So my literacy sessions are often planned around talking with the children.

I like to use the first session on a Monday to find out what the children had been doing over the weekend. During these sessions one gets to know what children do in their free time as they love to talk about this. Young children are free in expressing themselves and often one hears some very funny stories about their home life. It also gives me important information about children’s situations at home. This helps me to understand the children’s behaviour in class. Sometimes children will ‘act out’ because they are really sad or scared about something that is going on at home.

Something I noticed over time was the difference between how boys and girls spent their leisure time. When I realised this I started to keep track, for my own interest – noting down how the children described their weekend activities. It seemed that the boys mostly play computer or phone games while the girls engaged in ‘real life’ games such as playing with Barbie dolls, pretend-playing shop or doctor (or another occupation), playing hopscotch or skipping rope.

At first I didn’t realise that when the boys said that they played ‘cars’ or ‘cowboys and crooks’ they were really talking about computer games. But after several debates in class got sparked over which games they consider better than others, I realised that they were quite knowledgeable about these games. I also learnt new words such as ‘real-time’, ‘run-and-gun’ and ‘driving simulator’. I was quite impressed with this vocabulary and I encouraged the children to tell me more. I also quickly learnt that when a child told me that he played cowboys and crooks or cars, to ask how they played it and then to watch. The children showed me, by either making hand movements that indicated their pushing a toy car, or drawing a toy gun from their hip or, by holding an imaginary console and showing how they push the buttons.

Because the children at that school were mostly from middleclass households I assumed that the reason why the boys all seemed to be playing electronic games was because their parents could afford to buy them a games console. However, at the beginning of this year I started teaching at another government school, but this time the children were from poorer households, although not from the poorest. Still, I was amazed to learn that here, too, the boys spent a lot of their leisure time playing electronic games. Although they were more likely to report that they were playing games on cell phones or tablets than on actual game consoles.

I found it really interesting that the girls were actually more physically active than the boys over weekends. I find it concerning that the boys seem to favour electronic games over real life ones. I think it affects their social interaction and that the time they spend on screen robs them of valuable opportunities to develop physically, socially and emotionally. My experience shows that boys more often struggle to pay attention and to see an activity through to the end. Physical play is an important component of children’s learning and brain development. It seems to me that girls live a far healthier lifestyle in terms of social, physical and emotional development.

By Letitia Verwey

Photo by Lalesh Aldarwish

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