Earlier this year, Google announced its latest research initiative ‘Google Bloks’. Webb deVlam strategist Ellie Dent discusses how this latest effort to teach kids the basics in computer coding is a sign of the times.
The world is changing, perhaps faster than ever before. Even parenthood and childhood – states as old as humanity – are morphing at great speed as technology and attitudes change and adapt. Social, environmental and technical trends and developments have all meant that new ‘types’ of children have emerged, and with them new types of parent and different parenting styles. The pressure is on for brands to adapt too, if they want to capture the attention and affection of tech-savvy parents and their children, who will be the most digitally literate, socially connected individuals the world has ever seen to date.
Google’s recent launch of ‘Project Bloks’ is the brand’s effort to make coding physical for youngsters, tapping into children’s natural instincts to touch and manipulate objects and turn those behaviours into code. This is not the first time that a big brand has introduced the idea of teaching young children modern skills through play, but it is a growing trend.
Redefining modern parenthood
Today’s young children are absolutely used to devices, toys and tools that are connected, interactive and driven by technology. Their parents, meanwhile, are the first generation to make the transition to modern technology, redefining what it means to be a parent. They use social media to share and collect ideas, they often diarise their lives and the lives of their children online and most importantly for brands, they look for information about products and services largely online.
Interactive technology, connectivity and devices may be relatively new to anyone over 30, and even alien to older generations, but for many younger children, they have been surrounded by it all their lives. As a consequence, research shows us that children experience technology in an emotional way. They don’t see it as being separate to themselves, but rather an extension of their human experience. They see play as ‘one reality’ amongst many, and technology and devices empower them to experience and participate in this reality.
As such, technology is considered to be an essential tool for childhood – it’s part of their life and enables them to have enriched experiences. Schools use devices and interactive technology in the same way that older generations used blackboards. This ability to access a wider network of resources and enable and encourage more interaction and participation is hugely positive, but of course there is also increasing pressure for parents and teachers to set boundaries from an early age.
Safe and sound
Safety is one aspect, as access to the internet and online content obviously presents dangers that children need to be protected from. However, some brands have already begun to put measures in place to tackle this issue, for example the BBC has introduced ‘iPlayer kids’ and several child-friendly search engines are now emerging which filter out adult-only content.
Another concern is perceived over-use. Many parents welcome the distraction that devices and technology provide for their children, much in the same way that TV and video did before them. Yet there is growing social pressure to limit time on these devices, so that children don’t become over-reliant, or choose to spend all of their time inside, which could be said to remove them from outdoor and social play.
The challenge for brands is to strike a balance here. Any brand offering a technological, interactive element, will be appealing to an audience of children for whom this technology is not only exciting, but entirely natural. And they will be appealing to parents who celebrate the independence, education and opportunity that this technology offers their children. Using branding, packaging and marketing that enforces these positive messages will help to allay the fears around safety and overuse, and instead tap into the idea that these modern tools can enrich and empower our children. What Google is doing with Project Bloks is introducing children from an early age into the world they are inheriting: a world driven by connectivity, technology and computerised intelligence.
This may seem advanced, complicated, and even scary to those of us who have only accessed these tools recently, but to the youngest generation, this world is intuitive to them, and brands should embrace this fact and deliver products that foster this insatiable sense of learning and creativity.
Originally published in the August issue of Toy’s N Playthings.
Image source: projectbloks.withgoogle.com