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Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Wed, 10 Oct 2007
Subject: Pickford Bros.

Ste Pickford

It was parents' evening at my eldest daughter's primary school last night. They're never particularly eventful occasions; her teacher will tell us that she's doing fine but she doesn't hold her pen properly, we'll say that if she can write and draw OK (which she can) she can hold her pen any way she likes as far as we're concerned, the teacher will say she agrees but it's school policy that they have to make them all hold their pens the same way, and we say we think that's daft and that her Dad holds his pen in a funny way and he's made his living as an artist for the last twenty odd years. Then we change the subject.

OK, not strictly true about the twenty years of wonky pen holding. I do hold my pen funny, but I probably spend more time either holding a mouse or writing documents than I do drawing these days, and when I started out I used to draw all my graphics with a keyboard or joystick. Come to think of it, I've hardly ever used a pen or pencil professionally, and probably only make use of my Wacom pad about 10% of the time. Maybe the school is right?

The pen holding thing was only mentioned in passing last night. Her teacher seemed quite excited and wanted to tell us about some test result. The school she goes to seems to test the kids all the time - far more than necessary I think - and as a parent you're constantly having different scoring and rating systems explained to you (I don't know why they don't all use the same system, or at least a matching scale). It seems my daughter had scored really highly in a 'non-verbal reasoning' test. 'Off the scale' was the phrase her teacher used. She said it had been the talk of the staff room, and she's started looking at my daughter differently now, as if she's stumbled upon the latest member of the X-men.

I remember last year's teacher saying she did well in this test (although not to the same degree), so I'm assuming that it's not a mistake or marking error. This year's teacher said she'd seen other kids in the past get the right answers in these tests, but those who were able to answer questions correctly were never able to complete the whole test in the time allotted - working out the answers took too long. She'd never seen any kid get all the right answers and finish the test in time before.

Non-verbal reasoning tests are a bit like those IQ tests you sometimes see in newspaper advertisements for Mensa - spotting patterns and predicting the next shape in a sequence or pointing out which shape is the odd one out etc.

I think my daughter's a bright kid, but I'm sure every parent thinks that. She's not out of the ordinary or any kind of prodigy, and doesn't seem any smarter than her peers. So why did she get such an outstanding result in this test?

I think it's down to video games.

I admit I have no evidence for this at all, only my instinct, but I'm convinced that all the video games my daughter has played, or watched me playing, during her short life have developed her visual imagination, logic and problem solving faculties.

Although she was helping me out with my last couple of achievements on Crackdown last night, we don't tend to have many violent or shooty games in the house. My tastes tend towards the bright, colourful and Nintendo end of the gaming spectrum, so those are the sort of games she's been exposed to. She used to sit on my knee and use the mouse on my PC from the age of around 12-18 months, and played her own PC games aged 2 or so. We played through all three of the excellent PS1 Spyro games together when she was 3 or 4, and she was always playing on my GBA SP. She's 9 now, and regularly plays Sims 2 on the PC, or one of probably a dozed or so DS games which she likes, and she wants me to start a file for her so she can play Oblivion on the 360! The whole family had a phase of playing Brain Training together every day for a few weeks, and she's played every single Wario Ware game to death.

What's Wario Ware if not a super-fast non-verbal reasoning test?

It's a shame that most of the press coverage that video games get (if it's not hype about new products) focuses on the possible negative effects of violent shooty games. I'm not sure whether they have a negative effect or not, but there are lots of games which aren't violent or shooty, and I'm pretty sure that most of these games have a positive effect on their audience.

I suspect that my daughter's test score is only abnormal because most other kids aren't exposed to as many brain expanding video games at an early age.

In the future all kids of her age will probably have the same level of non-verbal reasoning skills if the DS and Wii keep selling at the rate they are.


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