Emergent Literacy

“For 3- to 5-year-olds, the imagery and default mode networks mature late, and take practice to integrate with the rest of the brain,” Hutton explains. “With animation you may be missing an opportunity to develop them.”

When we read to our children, they are doing more work than meets the eye. “It’s that muscle they’re developing bringing the images to life in their minds.”

Hutton’s concern is that in the longer term, “kids who are exposed to too much animation are going to be at risk for developing not enough integration.”


The other day I posted about “emergent propaganda” in which the idea of propaganda that emerges from a particular environment. Now, this about “emergent literacies” in which skills to read and write technology emerges from the environments that we provide for kids.

As an educator, this makes me think of scaffolding, yet there seems to be a difference – in the example here, kids are going to grow and advance regardless of the scaffolding present or not. There’s a larger context here apart from any given learning goal.

Anyway, the takeaways in this paper, for me at least, is that books (especially children’s books) will never go away completely, and that in rushing kids too much into digital environments at a young age parents might miss opportunities to develop robust literacy skills in their children.

Literacy Ataxia: Overwhelmed by the demands of processing language, without enough practice, they may also be less skilled at forming mental pictures based on what they read, much less reflecting on the content of a story.


The story about this paper is worth a read (via the Katexic newsletter):




Strange Animations on Youtube

“These videos, wherever they are made, however they come to be made, and whatever their conscious intention (i.e. to accumulate ad revenue) are feeding upon a system which was consciously intended to show videos to children for profit. The unconsciously-generated, emergent outcomes of that are all over the place.”


I was walking around campus one day, a month or so ago, and in the market I saw an obviously exhausted woman with two children sitting at a cafeteria table. The woman was just resting, reading maybe, while the kids were glued to a laptop, watching one of these 3D animation Spiderman/Elsa videos on youtube (the ones near the end of this article).

My first thought was to go over there and explain to the mom that these videos are not good. But, of course I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t do something like that.

Then I thought, she probably thinks these are just some strange North American cartoons that are all the fad right now, if she thinks anything about them at all. Being from another culture, how could she even tell this cartoon from one that wouldn’t be described as ‘disturbing’?

Would you ever intervene in a situation like this, one where there’s no imminent danger?

Yokai Apato

Yokai Apato (Elegant Youkai Apartment Life) is a show about relationships. There’s not a lot of overarching stories in the 26 episode series, but several short 2-4 episode events. There are too many characters to keep track of, especially because many of these only show up here and there. YA is light, serious, and great.

The events in YA are backdropped by a ghost-filled apartment, a high school, a delivery warehouse, an extended uncle’s family, an eccentric best friend, or with a spirit filled book of magic. Did I mention that it’s also a colorful series?

A high school teen, through these short storylines, learns how to navigate the world of human relationships, finding out what it means to make decisions and to accept responsibility for the consequences.

There’s a slower pace to YA, which I really like. The people hanging around the ‘youkai apartments’ spend time talking about the different expectations and reactions that humans have of each other in all types of situations. The show is tuned into a sense of Emotional Intelligence that isn’t always present in anime suitable for kids, and this is why I love it.

There are a lot of laughs and enough action in the show so that my kids also loved it. I can’t think of a better anime that I’ve watched with them. Life is limited and we don’t have the time to experience it all – YA is a good substitute for talking about experiences we might have and people we might meet, in small ways.

I often post about the the division of “how” and “what” skills/questions, and the tendency for my generation to focus so much more on the “How” of life. YA contributes to the much needed “What”, giving my kids some substance and some humanity to go along with all that digital connective stuff they’re supposed to prefer.

Adobe’s Exciting Journey

“And now, we’re pleased to announce that beginning May 15, 2018, the full suite of Adobe Creative Cloud apps will be available to K-12 schools via their authorized Adobe reseller for $4.99 per user license, per year, with a minimum purchase quantity of 500 licenses for a single school, or 2,500 licenses for a school district.”

“We are on an exciting journey, collaborating with educators to empower the next generation to be lifelong creators.”


So, Adobe is giving their Creative Cloud Suite to K-12 schools for next to nothing.

I’ve already started teaching my 10-year old Adobe Audition and Photoshop. She picks it up easily, and I honestly think that these are the sorts of skills that kids can learn easily if you just help them along with some fun projects.

That being said, I also try to maintain a balance. I keep her time limited in front of the screen and in using these programs. I’m not worried about her “keeping up to date with 21st century skills” or stuff like that, mainly because there’s so much non-digital things that she can use her time to experience now while she’s a kid, before her life gets taken over by virtual environments as she gets older.

This is nice news from Adobe. I would be a bit worried that this is one company, getting kids culturalized to one type of literacy, but that worry might be taking it too far (despite the red flag that comes up from that “exciting journey” sentence). My bigger worry is that introducing digital too much too early will detach future generations from our physical world and physical space.

There’s nothing wrong with scissors, glue, and cardboard paper – I hope schools are not so quick to discard such fun, fulfilling, and slowed down activities.

More: When Real Worlds Collide

Replacing Screentime

The key is to not just say, but do. Offer more attractive alternatives. And don’t just encourage other activities; actually get involved. Do things your kids like to do. Take them places they like to go. Help them learn a sport. Help them learn to play an instrument.

Make it easy for friends to visit, and for them to visit friends — in real life, not virtually.

And don’t just get involved in their lives; let them get involved in yours. Have your kids help you plan the next family vacation. Ask your kids to give you advice. Discuss a problem you’re facing and ask how they would solve it. Few things are more flattering than being asked for advice. (That’s true for kids as well as adults.)


Perfect advice in this article about not only limiting kid’s screentime, but also readily replacing screentime.

It seems simple enough, although not always. It is easy to fall into habits of escape and routine, especially because many digital media are designed to be habit forming.

Constantly breaking habits is a useful mindset to be in, when thinking about family dynamics in the modern age.

I love the part here about letting kids help plan the next vacation (for example). I am always amazed at kids when I challenge them with tasks much higher than what they are used to. It’s that zone of proximal development – don’t worry too much about the level of the task, be concerned more with the scaffolding.

All or Nothing Tech Narratives

Then we began to worry about screen time. As we watched our own adult relationships suffer, rather than flourish, because of screens, we thought the same might be true for our children.


This CoDesign article looks at some of the failures that laws in the US have for protecting privacy on social media websites at apps, especially for children. These types of articles are always great reminders that help me maintain technology balance.

However, the imperative title (“Don’t let your kids use apps!”) feels like a pause in the pendulum swinging between Let Tech!/Let’s Not Tech!

Such dichotomies are given momentum by the narrative that if anyone is using tech, then they are using tech to addictive levels. They also flow from the idea that “I’ve written about design and technology for 13 years…” so therefore I will assume the position of spokesperson for such a wide ranging topic.

There are many so many narratives when it comes to the use of technology and social media/smartphones, just talk to the people around you (as long as you’re not surrounded by tech writers) and you’ll hear so many stories about how people use technology to suit their life, in moderated ways.

The narrative that “we” are watching our relationships suffer because of screen addiction applies to a segment of high volume users. Any narrative about tech use that include “we” needs to be scrutinized for who that “we” represent.

My own narrative is to help my kids with tech moderation so they won’t define them self in all or nothing ways.

Language Natives – It’s Complicated

I recently read “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens” by Danah Boyd, a book I sought out because I have two children of my own who will become teenagers a lot earlier than I want and will be prepared to deal with. The book is excellent, Boyd succeeds in providing exploration and explanation of the subject from the teenager perspective. This perspective creates understanding more than critique. I recommend it, even if you don’t have kids.

In one of the final chapters, she tackles the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants. These two terms were popular a decade ago, but haven’t really stuck around since the initial meaning for these concepts haven’t really held up. From the book:

It has become popular in public discourse to promote the idea that natives have singular technical powers and skills. The suggestion that many take from Barlow’s proclamation is that adults should fear children’s supposedly natural born knowledge.

Boyd spends time dispelling but also exploring this idea, and almost shifts the discussion from natives and immigrants to a discussion of literacy. Which I wish she would have. Another quote brings up language and language learning, only to focus back on the native vs immigrant divide:

He [Rushkoff] metaphorically describes the differences in linguistic development between older immigrants and children who grow up in a society who’s dominant language is different than their parents native tongue. He uses the concepts of immigrants and natives to celebrate children’s’ development in the digital age.

The word ‘literacy’ has probably evolved in meaning during my lifetime, and this is where the real distinction lies when we think of how children develop in the digital age – there’s a certain degree or culture of digital literacy that many youth are born into. However, similar to how children learn language incidentally, ‘literacy’ is something that must be learned intentionally. Even still, ‘being literate’ says nothing about the degree to which that literate person can use language.

People learn mother tongues in daily life, starting from before birth. But does this mean for these ‘language natives’ that literacy development will take care of itself? No, because not everyone can write like a novelist or a journalist, and not everyone can give speeches like a sports team coach. People need to learn these skills. The same could be said for digital literacy.

It’s probably true that the concept of digital natives doesn’t offer very much. Digital literates and degrees/specializations of digital literacy might be a better concept to explore.