I was recently asked to write a piece for the two minute guide in Learning and Teaching Scotland's Connected magazine. Previously this part of the publication was in the hands of Ewan McIntosh and he covered a wide range of technology topics. I took this opportunity to look at something a wee bit different so I focused on social networks for young children.
This focus came about as a result of having met Dr Daniel Livingstone from the university of West of Scotland. Daniel has a particular interest in social networks and virtual worlds and is an excellent point of contect for anyone wanting to find out what is out there in terms of these resources.
I discovered Moshi Monsters as a result of looking in to Neopets, Webkinz etc and was immediately taken by it. It reminded me of Nintendogs to some degree and I feel it has the potential to be a source for great learning to happen in the field of literacy, numeracy and building, and contributing, to an online community.
The two minute guide that can be accessed is what it says, a two minute guide. As a result it can be difficult to cover the intricacies and finer details of how one might relate and apply such a resource to something as complex as developing attitudes to, and contexts for, writing in the early years.
Please find below a slightly more detailed draft of this article:
It was only very recently that I realised that Club Penguin wasn’t a new hybrid of chocolate biscuit. No, no need to worry about tooth decay here for Club Penguin along with a variety of other sites such as Neopets, Webkinz or Moshi Monsters is a social networking/virtual world site for children where they can play, solve puzzles, communicate and develop their online profile. There is a whole host of these worlds vying for children’s online time so it is well worth considering what is available, what children can learn from such games and what must we be careful of when allowing children to join these sites
What do children do and what can they learn in such an environment?
Let’s take a look at Moshi Monsters. First of all you have to adopt a monster, name it and then begin to look after it. It thrives on interaction and even giggles and moves when you tickle it with the mouse. Your monster has its own house and when you leave it you can go shopping in Monstro City and buy ornaments from Horrods, furniture from Yukea and food from the Gross-ery Store!
To buy stuff for your monster and its house you need Rox, the currency in the game. In order to get these you need to play the Daily Challenge or visit the Hall of Puzzles. This is where you can top up your Rox account via successful puzzle completion. The puzzles are engaging, great fun and their difficulty level adapts to how the child performs. They include activities that focus on early numeracy, early literacy and visual discrimination.
What’s particularly interesting about this game is the networking tools such as the noticeboard and the friend finder. These tools encourage children to communicate via written messages and to develop their understanding of how online networks can play a part in communicating and maintaining relationships with their friends. I have witnessed young children desperate to send and receive messages within this environment and in so doing, focus on getting their message written correctly so that their online friend can read what they have written. Great motivation to write!
What should we be wary of?
Apart from the online safety issues that sites such as this need to consider, and this one does have mechanisms in place to address this a major criticism of sites such as these is that they are being used for commercial purposes by businesses keen to drive market. Some offer free but limited functionality but full functionality requires subscription. Others promote the sale of cuddly toys and other accessories that come with a code that can then be used in the game to enhance game play. You can just imagine the parental pressure with that! But, somewhere in the middle of this implicit emphasis on buying into a consumer culture is a dynamic and engaging world that can drive learning. Good teachers could make great use of such a resource…
Practitioners with an early years focus will recognise the benefit in any resource that makes children want to write in the first place. Motivation and purpose to write is what is required before we can focus on any of the performance aspects of writing. My wee girl has sent me a number of messages that are complete gobbledegook but this is emergent writing happening in this virtual world. Now we are reading the messages that she is getting in return from me and her older friends and we are beginning to look at scribing what she wants to write back.
Just to finish, if you want to have a look at my monster and make friends with me then just search for Consolarium. He is not happy with me just now because I haven't played with him for quite a while!