First off, we just want to say we appreciate the hard work and ingenuity that goes into creating an app, especially one that is as obviously complex as the one being created by Lehigh University that is meant to allow children to play with virtual building blocks on a phone or tablet.
The as-yet-unnamed app is being touted as a way to give young children “a meaningful and accessible block-building experience – without actual blocks.” That’s from the actual press release about the app, which is still in development at Lehigh.
The app’s development team went out, studied how children interact with building blocks, and then used what they had found to help them create their app, which is meant to help children develop spatial awareness and help them in their development of geometric abilities.
Our question about this app is: What is the point?
What purpose is being served by taking actual building blocks out of children’s hands and instead giving them virtual building blocks that they play with on a screen?
This is an app, keep in mind, that is aimed at preschoolers. The team at Lehigh seems to want people to intentionally take physical toys out of children’s hands and replace them with toys-that-don’t-actually-exist … so kids can play with them on a tablet and learn the exact same thing.
This idea strikes us as being disingenuous at best.
If you lined up all the childhood development experts who have gone on record saying children should have less screen time and more personal interaction, they would stretch to the moon and back.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Kaiser Family Foundation are just two organizations that have called on parents to limit screen time and get children interacting more with their environment (and the people in it) rather than just putting a screen in their hands.
Admittedly, this app could be useful if parents actually play with it together with their children (although getting out some actual building blocks and playing with kids is still a million times better) and there could be some use if a parent is in a place where taking actual building blocks would be a bit unfeasible (like in a restaurant or some other type of place where they could potentially cause problems).
However, we still firmly believe that if you want to help develop children’s spatial awareness and help them develop their geometric abilities (along with letting them have a ton of fun while doing it, helping develop motor skills, facilitating creativity and doing a whole lot more for them), you simply hand them some real building blocks (preferably Click-A-Brick) and put the tablet or phone away.