A lot of the questions I get about computer games for kids suggest that experiences with computers (and computer literacy) and experiences with books (and print literacy) are in conflict: doing one competes with the other. Similarly, playing on the computer is seen as the antithesis of playing with other people.
In my daughter’s kindergarten class–where the kids get time on the computer and spend it drawing with Kid Pix or playing educational games–I saw a great example of how this either/or mentality misunderstands the nature of both reading and computer games.
One of the kids moved to the school the class late in the year. She is painfully shy, and has trouble reading. The last time I was visiting the class it was her turn to use the computer, and she chose to play a Clifford reading game. In one part of the game, you get to write a short word (by choosing letters one at a time on the screen), and then a character “paints” a picture of the word you chose.
This little girl *loved* that part of the game. She couldn’t spell the words, so she would say a word (in a quiet whisper–the first time she had ever spoken to me in the class) and I would help her spell it, one letter at a time. She *beamed* every time the picture appeared. After a few words, I started writing out the words that she wanted to spell, so she could do it herself.
So called the teacher over, and *she* beamed. Then she suggested that we get the “word cards” they use in the classroom: cards with pictures of objects on one side (cat, dog, drum, and so on) and the words written out on the other.
Now this painfully shy girl was reading the words on her word cards in order to play the game.
For the skeptics in the crowd: The words in the computer game were in lower case letters. The words on the word cards were in capital letters. And this kindergartener was still learning to recognize letters, so it was a great activity for her all around.
Now, this was not an epistemic game, to be sure. But it certainly echoed the themes of How Computer Games Help Children Learn: what made the game good was that it was about more than just what was on the screen. It was about the computer, and traditional print materials, and the people this child was playing with.