From Crystals and Transistors to Code and Minecraft Blocks

Granted, watching videos, playing video games, and coding at a computer may seem passive and isolated, but it could be more collaborative than you realize.

Robot Artificial IntelligenceGenerations ago, children tinkered with crystal receivers, transistors, and various parts to make their own radio sets. With just a few components and instructions found in magazines of the era, future inventors were introduced to technology.

By modern standards, crystal radio sets are quaint, but without them, we might not have computers, iPhones, and other modern technologies. Steve Jobs, for example, was an inquisitive child who loved to figure out how things worked or how they were assembled.
While you’ll still find today’s children dissembling or building their own electronic devices and robotics, often from scratch or via neatly bundled kits, you’ll also find that many of the world’s future inventors acquiring their new skills elsewhere. Though it might look like your kids are just watching YouTube or playing a game, it’s also possible that their experiments and world building are setting the stage for innovations we can only dream of.
Below are a few ways that tomorrow’s inventors are playing, learning, and preparing for the future…

YouTube – While there’s no shortage of time-wasting videos on YouTube, for the inquisitive child, there’s a wealth of information just a tap or click away. If Grampa’s not around to explain what a combustible engine is and how it works, a quick search and a few minutes of viewing can fill in the gaps.

Learning to code – Have you ever paid attention to what your child is doing when playing a game such as Minecraft? You may hear talk of “modding” or feel overwhelmed by the blocky worlds and characters, but upon closer inspection, you’ll see that coding is part of game play. In addition, several computer coding languages, such as Scratch and Alice, have been developed specifically for kids, helping to introduce them to the world of code.

Why It Matters

Whether exploring an item’s mechanics by taking it apart or putting it together, watching videos about something of interest, or learning how to code, playing with technology teaches future inventors several important skills just as crystal radio sets taught a previous generation.

These skills include:
Creativity – Inventors, by their nature, tend to be curious and creative. Building a robot, designing an app, or repurposing parts are all forms of expression.

Problem solving – Inventions are typically made to solve a problem. Coding, for example, involves breaking large, complex problems down into smaller and more manageable parts, which teaches logic and computational thinking.

Communication and collaboration — Granted, watching videos, playing video games, and coding at a computer may seem passive and isolated, but it could be more collaborative than you realize. For example, your child may be playing Minecraft or Roblox with a group of friends, using text-based chats or video conferencing to create an interactive, collaborative experience. These same tools, or future iterations of them, will likely be used to communicate with colleagues, coworkers, and partners in adulthood.

Persistence — Learning new skills or trying to build something is challenging and frustrating at times, but it’s also rewarding. Just as your child’s grandparents experienced joy after tuning and listening to a real radio signal on a homemade crystal radio, the same is true of an accomplishment such as creating an animation, app, or robot that follows instructions.

The technologies kid tinker with have changed, but the end result is the same: cultivating curiosity and inspiring the innovations of the future.