Pokemon is not going away any time soon. The more we disapprove, the cooler it is to them.
We can treat it like a blight, or we can ride the tide with grace and clever
understanding. Why not take advantage of the obsession? Why not help them learn from it,
instead of fighting it? This is not yo-yos, Beanie Babies, or baseball cards. Its a
complicated, interactive, well-marketed, portable multimedia experience for children.
There has never been anything like it before, but its success dictates that there
will be a lot more of it in the future. We might as well seek to demystify Pokemon and try
to see how it can work for all of us.
Some adults, in a desperate effort to find
something redeeming about all of this, have recognized the obvious advantages. Children
learn the important skill of negotiation, and of course it encourages reading, but Pokemon
is potentially valuable in so many other ways.
I decided to take Pokemon seriously as a learning tool
early last summer. It had been simply another expense and annoyance until my four-year-old
son said, "See, Mom? Charmander evolves into Charmeleon, and hes better, then
his final evolution is Charizard. Thats the best." He not only knew the verb
and noun form of a sophisticated word (evolve) Id never heard him utter, he also
understood the fundamental concept of micro-evolution.
Here are some other lessons Ive witnessed
kids learn through Pokemon:
Socialization: Our children are
interacting more with one another than a machine, for a change. Since Pokemon hit the
scene, kids talk and play outside more. They watch TV and play video games a lot less.
Naturally, the adjustment from facing controllable and predictable machines to dealing
with humans is a traumatic one. Kids tend to fight more until they get used to it, but
eventually they do, and end up being much more enjoyable people as a result.
Time Management: This is a perfect
chance to show kids there is a time and place for things. Our challenge is to help them
achieve a balance. We can help them learn that no matter how passionate they are about
something (as long as it isnt out and out harmful), its good, but its
only good until you let it interfere with what you must get done. Taking control teaches
them to put Pokemon into perspective and use their day wisely. Dont let them take
their cards to school. If necessary, frisk them on their way out the door everyday until
they can be trusted. Lock up or hide their cards until theyve earned them. Pokemon
cards and trading time are excellent incentives to get children to do their chores and
school work, and do them well. If they dont leave enough time in their day, they
dont get to play.
Kids learn to protect their assets from both damage (scratches and greasy, creasing hands)
and theft, or "jacking," which is a slight-of -hand move. Also, forgetting your
cards somewhere in public usually means youll never see them again.
Parental Responsibility: Trainers must
take detailed care of their Pokemon or they will not evolve. Although some Pokemon, if
combined with certain elemental stones, will evolve no matter how much they are neglected.
Ethics: They learn what can happen when
you mix business with pleasure, and who they can trust. A childs true colors come
out when they play Pokemon. Kids willing to lie, steal, cheat, or become violent, as well
as fourth-graders that go to school with their pockets stuffed with wads of money
obviously have problems that go well beyond Pokemon. If their parents didnt know
before, they should be thanking Pokemon, because they know now.
The geometric forms of Pokemon characters lend themselves to imitation. Younger
children can draw them crudely, older kids in more detail. Everyone tries, and they really
concentrate. Its difficult to blow-up little pictures freehand, yet I have seen very
impressive efforts by kids I had never before seen pick up a pencil of their own volition
(see How to Draw Pokemon, by Ron Zalme).
Memorization: They know every rule and
character nuance by heart. This is good exercise for their minds, and it proves that, with
motivation, kids are capable of sorting and retaining great amounts of intricate
Word Origin Comprehension: The character
"Graveler" is made of rocks. "Drowzee" is the hypnotic Pokemon. Get
it? They dont, so take the opportunity to explain it to them. Theyll love it,
and theyll remember.
Physical Science: One night my
10-year-old daughter was explaining fire, water, and electric energies. Water puts out
fire, of course, and doesnt get along with electric energies. "Right, just like
you better not put a plugged- in radio or blow dryer in water, or the electricity in the
water will kill you," I said. She agreed, so I went on: "But there is also such
a thing as using the power of water to make electricity, like when we went to the Hoover
Dam, remember that? Its called hydroelectricity."
"You mean like Blastoise and Ditto have hydro-pump power?"
"Yes. Yes, exactly like that."
Math: To the principal of a Wisconsin
elementary school that said: "The excitement, the intensity of it . . . I wish
theyd be that focused on mathematics," I say take a closer look! Creative
teachers and parents everywhere have realized that hands-on experience using real or fake
money gives children a better understanding in math. Pokemon cards are a form of currency,
but we dont have to allow them in schools in order to use them as a verbal
illustration. Talking about them is enough to grab their attention!
As a helpful addition, math is intrinsic to the Pokemon
game: Foremost, kids are very diligent about keeping their cards in numerical order. Also,
power and strength are measured in HPs (hit points); they must know greater than and
less than by multiples of five. The same is true of damages. Perhaps that isnt
difficult for older kids, but there are more challenging problems as well. Let me quote
from Pokemon Comic #1, "The Electric
Tale of Pikachu," by Toshihiro Ono: "Every year, several thousand people
attempt to become Pokemon Trainers (1000 applicants) . . . but only about 20% pass the
test to become pros (200 pros) . . . and after that, only 5% are able to stay active in
the league for more than six seasons (that makes 10) . . . "
Pokemon is very complicated and often inane to us,
but kids truly love it. The enthusiasm is already there. Why waste time fighting this
powerful force, when we could harness it, direct it, and use it to relate to them? Once
you validate their needs, they listen. We can simply tolerate it, or we can get our
moneys worth, and more. If we familiarize ourselves with what is important to them,
kids can be guided through life lessons that need to be learned anyway; lessons that
neither Pokemon nor money can buy. When parents and educators take the time and energy to
listen, its possible to understand. Instead of being intimidated, we would be
fluent, and able to communicate. If we dont, arent we really saying it would
be easier if theyd all just slip back into a video coma?
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