Virtual reality is permeating our lives at every level, from doing business to entertainment and socializing. And its use extends to all age groups, including children. This is a sensitive territory which worries parents: how safe and healthy is it for children to be exposed to a virtual environment, while they are still learning about the real one?
These are valid concerns. Virtual reality apps are “tricking” the brain into believing that we are in a specific environment, performing various activities and motions. The inner ear, which manages our balance and sense of direction, does not perceive these motions and this conflict explains the nausea some people feel after experiencing virtual reality. What effect does this have on children, who are still not fully developed physically?
Are Virtual Reality Apps Harmful for Children?
There is no clear answer, but various VR devices have warnings against use by children under 13, some of these being: HTC Vive, Google Daydream, Playstation VR and Google Cardboard. A recent study conducted by scientists from Leeds University showed that spending 20 minutes playing a virtual reality game triggered eyesight and balance problems in a control group of children aged 12.
The results are not fully conclusive, and they should not represent a ban on VR for children under safe and controlled conditions. Virtual reality is a great educational tool for teachers and it has already made its way into many schools.
How Does Virtual Reality Help Children Learn?
1. Creating Experiences Which Are Not Possible in Real Life
How can children understand the importance of the Great Barrier Reef if they cannot see it? With virtual reality apps, they can take a dive and swim around it, touch it, mingle with fish and experience the life pulsating all over this natural wonder.
There is no way this experience could ever happen in real life. Nor would it be possible for children to experience the majestic beauty of ancient monuments, now in ruins, or be a part of major historical events from the past. Thanks to virtual reality, these experiences are now available as part of the teaching process.
2. Exploring the World Safely
Geography is less exciting when all you have is a textbook and some maps. But how can a teacher take their students up the snowy trails of the highest mountains, or through the most dangerous areas in Africa and South-East Asia?
This is where virtual reality removes all risks and obstacles, and turns every geography lesson from boring to exciting.
3. Appreciating Art in Its True Beauty
Not everyone can travel to Italy to see the Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo’s David. Likewise, not all students can see with their own eyes the magnificence of the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat, and Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile will be just an image on the computer screen or in a magazine.
Thanks to virtual reality, art becomes accessible to children in the most immersive, make-believe manner ever. The chance to explore it in such a close and realistic way could trigger their own hidden talents to surface.
No Clear-Cut Conclusion in Sight
Technology can have either a good or bad effect, depending solely on how it is put to use by people. The same can be said for virtual reality in relation to children: it is the parents’ and teachers’ role to determine for how long and what type of VR exposure children should have and to encourage them to maintain the same excitement for the real world around them.
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