Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Embracing the Screen: A Very Visual Child

My new favorite game is "What Does Wallace See?"  I cut out an assortment of miscellaneous shapes, and he wanders in and selects one or a few and makes a collage. 
A Ship in Rough Seas - He started with the wave and the hull of the ship
A Telephone Pole Next To A Road By A Lawn - Started with the blue and black rectilinear shapes, and the green curve
A Car - Started with the front wheel circle.  Self-Portrait - Started with the circle and the green shapes
The Whale - The original.  Started with the ovoid (what is that shape called?)
What interests me is how he filters what he sees; what are the salient details of an object?  The casement windows on our house have three panes; he always draws them that way.  His clouds are flat on the bottom, like giant cumulonimbus forms on an air mass.  He will draw a schematic of a timber frame, and the structural members are two-dimensional on a flat plane; they have heft.
This is a child who spends HOURS, literally, in front of the computer screen.  If we are home, there is a ninety percent chance he is in the guest room on the computer.  If not, then he is eating or making art work.  I never imagined the screen would play such a large role in our house; we don't have a television and we rarely even watch movies.  I am amazed by how much he gets from it. 

Wallace's first word, or near to it, was book.  He would crawl over to me with a board book in hand and hit me with it, saying "book.  book."  We used to read all the time.  Naturally, I assumed he would be itching to learn to read.  Then he discovered the screen.  We looked up farm machinery on YouTube; he was hooked.  (I have seen a surprising number of promotional spots for high-tech combine harvesters).  I have watched as he has learned to manipulate the mouse, to select videos on Netflix, to enter letters into the address bar and select recent sites from the drop-down menu, to navigate online games.  He taught himself his letters so that he could find them on the keyboard and select his favorite shows and sites: Boowa and Kwala, NickJr, PBS Kids, Thomas the Train, Bob the Builder, Kipper the Dog.  He plays adventure games, art games, word games, music games.  He watches films with intense focus, standing on the bed, fists clenched, head stretched forward; a few days ago he actually hurt his nose bouncing himself off the bed headfirst during "The Lord of The Rings"!  There is nothing passive about his relationship with the screen; this is his passion.  He tells me stories about plot lines and jokes.  When I hear him laughing in his sleep I imagine he is in one of his shows; when he had delirious, fevered nightmares during a bout of the 'flu they were of computer games.

Does he do other things?  Absolutely.  He'll spend hours at friends' houses role-playing or adventuring, he paints and draws.  He still loves to read, but I get it now: he likes the pictures.  "The Hobbit," with its giant trolls and dragon and raging battles, was of little interest until I borrowed an illustrated edition from the library.

He is a director, with a complete and perfect vision of everything he does; my major challenge right now is helping him through the rage and frustration that occurs as he struggles to execute that vision (I am also working on developing my MacGuyver skills, since I am often asked to fashion working machinery from a pile of popsicle sticks and yarn).  His dreams are big, and they are beautiful; when he accomplishes his objective he is pleased and satisfied, but immediately on to the next phase.

Of course there are moments when it worries me, his screen time.  Child psychologists and behaviorists have done numerous studies on the impact of screens on the developing brain.  Some of them draw negative conclusions, some positive, but it does not really matter to me.  In attempting to eliminate the confounding factors, the uniqueness of the individual, studies cannot account for the inherent differences between human beings.  Indeed, they do the opposite.  The world is full of exceptions, and that is what makes life interesting.  Finish school=Experience More Professional Success and Remuneration.  Someone tell Bill Gates. 

But mostly, it doesn't matter to me who he would be if he weren't who he is.  Accepting and embracing his love of these activities, so different from my preferences, is just another way that I learn how to live from watching my children, and from living with them as partners.  I can't wait until he can program, and use sophisticated graphic design programs; based on what he can make out of construction paper, I anticipate some pretty cool results.  As Tom Waits said in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, "To my children, who have taught me everything I know.  Or maybe it's everything they know.  Anyway, they have taught me a lot."

When I watch Wallace interact with the screen, when I see the development that comes out of it, I see that he is on his own nourishing path.  As I seek the blazes on my own, I know many times they lead me through terrain that others would prefer I not travel.  If I look for you where you are, I can meet you.  Or I can wait in vain to find you where I think you ought to be. 

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