The Future of Child’s Play

By Sabina Bonnici.

A woman said to me recently: "I once caught my son compulsively playing on an iPad in the school library. My first reaction was to tell him to stop, and then I realised he was playing an algebra game called Dragon Box 2, and loving it!"

Children's play in the future will be using screens and devices, despite parent's concerns about kids spending too much time on them. This is inevitable in the same way that there are very few jobs today that do not use technology in some form. I think we'll be looking back on the current discussion about 'limiting screen-time' for children and wonder what we were thinking! Monitoring time spent using a screen or device, should take a back seat to finding out what children (or adults, for that matter) are actually doing with those screens.

This view is supported by Dr Brian O'Neill, DIT, who recently led an extensive study on how children use the Internet in Ireland and on the recent TV series Making Ireland Click, is quoted as saying: "We're not really making that creative and productive connection that we really need to. It's just reflective of some of the restraint that is unwarranted because young people do have good digital skills."

Leaving aside the screen-time debate, the woman's observation about her son playing a maths game on an iPad is also indicative of the many toys and games for children that have inherent learning experiences built in. In some cases, this even extends to monitoring. An example of this is an American learning platform www.thriver.com: parents answer questions about their child and invite other family members and care-providers to weigh in, and kids play brain games that target perceived areas of cognitive weakness. Highly personalised toys and games such as these, that are based on a child's cognitive skill-sets, are the future of learning through play.

The line between what constitutes play, and what is deemed to be work, is being blurred. The traditional view of play and work is that they are opposites: Play equals fun & unproductive, while Work equals serious & productive (mariamontessori.com). According to rules for national schools, school time only allowed for a 30min 'recreational interval', but now play is being integrated into classrooms as a recognised way to learn.

For teenagers playing with open-source electronics prototyping platforms like Arduino, in cities and towns across Ireland, it isn't 'work' at all as they create interactive objects and environments. They are literally getting to grips with the 'Internet of Things' (IoT), a description for connected devices that change the way we live and work, one that many adults are only just getting their heads around.


Similarly, in the 'not just for adults category', the maker movement (an umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers) is providing plenty of opportunities for children to become involved. Giant toy corporation Mattel have recognised this opportunity and next Autumn will be releasing the Thingmaker, a 3D printer that lets kids design and create their own toys. 


IMAGE: Thingmaker

Years ago, exasperated parents shouting at squabbling kids: 'Go outside and play!' might not have thought that smartphones would be part of that plan, but   today Augmented Reality (AR) games like Pokemon Go have changed that. AR technology has the potential to turn everywhere from your backyard to the public square into a playground. Location based games aren't new (Ingress for example, has been around for a while), but big brands like Pokemon have succeeded in making AR accessible to young and old.

Finally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another technology that I predict will, as well as changing the future of business, have an equally profound effect on the way children play. It's already started with Mattel recently partnering with tech company pullstring.com to create Hello Barbie the first conversational AI doll that kids can speak to. And bust my buffers, they've also gone and done the same with Thomas the Tank Engine!

Now enough of child's play, if you would like to read about the future of play for Adults, pop on over here...


© Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie