When The Dormouse sat with Santa the other day(s) she was, of course, asked to give her list of things that she would like for Christmas. I'd been dreading this because I'd gotten a small sampling of her wish list and was horrified by it contents.

She also informed me that if she didn't receive everything on her list, Christmas would be a wash, full of unfulfilled desires and she could not possible be happy without each and every item. Every time I got to hear a bit of the list, it grew and became more expensive.

The following is an approximate retelling of her
wishes demands:
  • Nintendo DS
  • XBox 360
  • Wii
  • Electric guitar
  • Electric keyboard
  • Guitar hero
  • all the stuff to go with a Wii
  • PlayStation
  • GameBoy
  • iPod
  • iPhone
  • apps for the iPod and iPhone (no specification of what kind - just "all of them")

Look, generally Santa's not a bad guy around these parts. He tries really hard to make the magic of Christmas happen but I have to say right off, nothing on this list is going to work for me. I've tried to explain my philosophy on video games to a number of people, but I haven't yet successfully been able to do so with out coming off like a Scrooge mom who refuses to let her children watch television but would rather they spent their days memorizing math facts off flash cards.

Oh, and incidentally, funny story there: The Dormouse has a series of timed math tests in her class. Every couple of weeks they all take the test and if they get all the answers right within the time limit specified, they get to move up to the next level. So speed, as well as accuracy, counts. There is an addition test #1, a subtraction test #1 and then if they pass those, they move on to second grade level stuff, addition and subtraction tests #2.

For the first few months of school, The Dormouse was fairly distressed because she hadn't yet passed the test. Apparently, she'd missed one each time and was still stuck on the first addition test. She came home one day rather depressed about it so I said, "Well, all you really need, honey, is some practice. We'll just work on them at home. I'll help you make
some flash cards and we'll practice doing them until you know them so well you can rattle them off quickly. Then when you take the test, it'll come so fast that you'll do the sums in plenty of time."

So I asked her what she had to know and she told me, "All the addition facts up to the number twelve."

To me, that meant 12+1, 12+2, 12+3, etc. all the way up to 12+12 and every number below that. It seemed a little much for first grade, but hell, she's working on fractions right now too, so I just assumed that they were trying to push this group of kids a bit. (Actually if you want to know the truth, I didn't really assume anything, I just didn't really think about it much one way or the other. You want flash cards to 12? Here you go.) So I printed out flash cards for all the possibilities it presented and then cut up a big stack of cards to keep in the car so we could practice when we were waiting for the bus in the mornings or stuck at a stop light or whatever. She enjoyed the attention and in short order had memorized 12+12=24 and everything on down to 1+0=1.

A couple of days later she came home in joyous jubilation because she had passed the first test. "Yeah, baby, I knew you could do it!" I high-fived her, we jumped up and down with the neighbor and then I set about making flash cards for all the same numbers, but in the subtraction realm. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This time it only took her one time to pass the subtraction facts test. More celebration.

This worked so well, I asked her what she needed to know for the addition and subtraction tests #2 and she told me, "It's the same but you have to go up to eighteen." Whatever, fine. Again, I didn't really think about it until I went to find a website to print out flash cards that went up to 18+18=36 and couldn'teven find any pre-made online flash cards for that. Then it occurred to me that I didn't really think I could add 18+18 in my head without really thinking hard about it, so why was my first grader having to learn 18+18?

That's when I finally got a clue and emailed the teacher to ask about it. She wrote back to say, in so many words, "No dummy, it's
to the sum of twelve and to the sum of eighteen. I don't expect them to be able to add double digit numbers in their heads." In other words, the highest numbers she would have to add for the first test were 6+6 and for the second grade level test, 9+9. And I'd just drilled her until she knew 12+12.

Long story short, I'm pretty sure I won't have to make any more flash cards any time soon.


To be clear, I don't have anything against video games. I think that, given moderation, there are good ones out there and they can drill math skills (though probably not with my apparent gusto), other educational goals, eye-hand coordination, etc. I don't mind if my child plays video games.

My problem is that they (and technology in general) are so addictive. We are already techno-addicts in this house - and I fully realize I am the worst of the offenders in the family so maybe that's why I'm more tuned into it than The KoH. We currently have games, toys, computers, televisions, a superabundance of videos and movies, and a couple of predispositions to addictive personalities in our house. I don't mind her playing adult-monitored video games at school or at friends' houses, it's just that when it's right there in your house all the time, it becomes a battle to keep her from constantly begging to use that technology every waking moment. We already have that battle with the t.v. and the computer so I'd prefer to not add yet another hand held electronic device to the mix.

I also happen to know that The Dormouse doesn't even know what most of those items on her list are or do. I was dropping her off a school one day last week and an older child ran up to her and said, "Ooo! Make sure to tell your Mom that you need the Nintendo DS One-Eighty-Something because that one is way better and it will be better for you to learn on. Then for your birthday, you can ask for the [insert name of random technological device I've never heard of here] because by then you will be ready for it." Clearly, most of her wish list is being externally created and motivated.

So I think Santa is gonna be a meanie this year and not even get her one thing on her list. We've chosen a couple of reasonable facsimiles to replace some of the items. Who knows? Maybe she'll care, maybe she won't. There might even be a DVD that serves as a video game, but one that uses the television so we'll be able to monitor it better... you know, because it'll compete with our television viewing needs.
But I'm pretty sure this is going to be an annual issue.

So I'm curious.

What are your thoughts about video games for kids? Do you get them what they want? Do you limit their time on the items or just limit the items? How do others handle the uber-technology focus our culture has and it's effect on children whom I personally think should still be asking for a pair of skates and a sled?