February 28, 2010

2.5 year old discovers virtual world

It began innocently enough--Lucy was trying to play with mommy's laptop, I thought maybe she'd like to see some pretty pictures on the computer, and I'd been meaning to check out the latest SecondLife viewer (I haven't been using SL much at all lately). Together, we arrived in Iowa (virtual Iowa) to see what's new at Dr. Z's place in world. A few minutes later, my 2.5 year old daughter had figured out how to walk, turn and fly in a virtual world. What just happened?

I realized that I had just witnessed something remarkable (I think). I had observed how a digital native makes sense out of a virtual world--a totally new and different environment. In a span of about 15-20 minutes she had discovered how to navigate this virtual world--how to walk, turn and fly. She expressed real emotion (humor, curiosity, frustration, reward, and even a bit of fear that she was up too high or going to get in the water). Through trial and error, she very quickly learned how to manipulate the avatar on the screen and make him not only walk about in open areas but travel in and out of buildings. And she wanted more!

Amazing (I think). Watch... (and listen)...

Afterward (about 30 min), I put Lucy down for her nap and my head filled with questions...
  1. Am I a horrible father? 
  2. Is there anything very novel about this? Is it really much different than watching a child learn how to use a remote control car? 
  3. Will Lucy think she can fly now? Will she try to jump off a building or something? 
  4. If she can do this at 2.5 years old, what will she be capable of (and what will she expect from media and technology) when she is 5, 10, or 15 years old? 
  5. How much will she remember tomorrow? She had no trouble remembering that the E key made the avatar fly and the C key made him land. That's pretty abstract. Will she go right back to those keys the next time we play in Second Life? 
  6. Did I just violate SL's terms of use? 
  7. There's a Second Life Teen Grid. Should there be a Baby Grid? Or do WebKinz and Club Penguin have that covered?  
  8. What would my students think of this? (maybe they'll blog about it)


  1. I am not sure about any violations, but I think this is very exciting! I try to convey this message to teachers on a regular basis and help them understand that my daughter learned how to unlock my iPhone at 18 months! She knows how to find "her" games, and she knows how to enlarge and switch photos. It is incredible how adaptive young minds are! I have heard for years that the younger you start teaching kids a foreign language, the faster they learn. I would stand to reason that this is the same for technology! Thanks for sharing this cool story!

  2. It is amazing what you have recognized. I marvel at how tots can find their ways around a keyboard and mouse. You have taken the introspection to a new level where you are wondering about how much Lucy has internalized her Second Life experience.

    These are questions that need to be asked and answered on a developmental level. Actually, didn't Piaget begin his monumental work on child development by observing his children and how they interacted with their environment. You are doing the same thing with the virtual world.

    Keep up the good work.


  3. That is pretty cool and exciting-did she end up remembering how to use it the next time? It will definitely be interesting to see how technologically advanced she is when she grows older if she has already figured that out!

  4. Yes, about 3-4 days later, we opened up Second Life again, and Lucy went straight for the E and C keys on the keyboard to fly up and down, used the arrow keys to walk and turn, etc. She kept asking to play with "the man" for the next week or so. We haven't played with it much lately--not since she discovered NickJr.com with dress-up and coloring activities.