Digitizing Childhood Experiences


As much as I encourage others to buy digital versions of books and magazines, purchase songs from iTunes, and scan things like bits of paper and old letters, I’m still admittedly a sentimental packrat.  While I have a whole bunch of DVDs, books, old appliances and defunct electronics ready to get rid of, I’m still loath to give up my childhood toys, like stuffed animals, tea party gear and my Barbie + paraphernalia collection.  And just the other day, I hauled out the LEGO for some creative inspiration.  (The fact that I inadvertently built an old age home instead of a space station is beside the point.)   

A few weeks ago, a colleague showed me an iPad app called Toca Tea Party from developer Toca Boca. Selling for $1.99, it’s really sweet and if you have kids who would enjoy that kind of thing, then I highly recommend it. By pressing on the different objects, you and three guests can pour and drink tea, serve and eat cake, open presents, clean up spills and wash dishes.  It was a great way to spend 10 minutes, but for me, it doesn’t really beat that tactile experience of pouring water and imagining it to be something else and using little cardboard boxes to substitute as cake.

What I’m hoping to relay through this blog is some inspiration for clearing clutter and examining which experiences need to be experiences – online or offline.  For those times when you don’t feel like setting up or trucking all the gear (e.g. on holiday), by all means, go digital because that’s why you live in the modern era.

Virtual pets
There is nothing digital to stimulate walking a dog outside on Christmas Eve in negative temperatures, then stooping to pick up quickly freezing poop.  But the next best options are robot toy dogs and virtual pets.  On the iPad, you can even have a cute little pet zombie or ferocious fiendish feline friend.

Dress-Up Sticker Books
I’m not such a fan of digital sticker books (I don’t really get the point), but for dress up, I’m all for them.  Less stuff to carry around, more outfits to choose from.  You’ll find them by searching in the app store with terms like “princess”, “dress up” and “doll.”

Kids still need to build dexterity with real writing tools, but for the sake of not hauling out multiple items like colouring books and crayons (which somehow multiply on their own) when travelling, opt for the tablet.

Board games
Especially for a group game, board games are more fun to play with other people. But for games that need to be updated regularly with new questions, like Family Feud, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader and The Price Is Right, families can still play together without the bulky setup.

Family dance parties
Impromptu family dance parties are always a memorable time, but dance games give a little more structure, and often gamify exercise.

In terms of dancing with the Kinect, I’ve always been loyal to the Dance Central franchise, but with Just Dance 4 securing Psy’s Gangnam Style, I may have to trade discs for a week.

I usually find scrapbooks difficult to make on the iPad, but that could just be me.  However, I do like the idea of being able to flip through pages on a tablet, and treating each page like its own sensory experience with video and audio mixed with photos and a seemingly endless supply of stickers and paraphernalia that won’t take up mounds of storage bins.

But on the flip side of going digital, I still think there are some things that should just be experienced offline like:

Building blocks
I’ve tried a series of virtual builder apps that try really hard for recreating that experience you have with real blocks, and they’re just not as fun.  There’s a certain satisfaction out of scraping your hands through the pile of bricks, finding the right piece and snapping them securely in place.

Virtual dollhouses just aren’t the same as the real thing, unless you’re building a room in a virtual world and collecting items.  But there’s something mystical and magical about seeing miniaturized versions of things in real life.  My favourite dollhouse store is The Little Dollhouse Company in Toronto, which can ship worldwide.

Cooking games are good for learning recipes and visualizing technique.  But unless your controller is a knife and smellovision technology exists for you,

Getting dirty
Unless you break a device, you don’t get that “Oh no, I’m dirty but it was worth it” feeling.

This list could go on and on, filled with things like playing with cars and trucks, sewing, and learning to do chores, but if there’s anything to take away from this blog, it’s that sometimes digital options are wonderful, and sometimes, you just need the real thing.

Image from 25 Cool Kids Playroom Design Ideas