The classic Nike tagline, “Just do it!” seems to have faded, but I think it should be given new life as a motto for parents: “Just read!” That’s what sprang to mind when I read a recent article in The New York Times with the headline “Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?”
Oy veh! I thought the Baby Einstein craze was over, but it seems to be reincarnating in E-book format, as children’s books go digital and begin beeping and barking at babies. Is this a good idea?
A lot of experts doubt it. The American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors to keep reminding the parents who visit with their infants to read to their kids from birth, “prescribing books as enthusiastically as vaccines and vegetables.” At the same time, they strongly recommend no screen time for kids under 2 and limiting it to under two hours for older children.
While digital industry mavens tout the value of the “interactivity” their devices offer, new studies suggest that reading to a child from an iPad or other electronic device actually undermines language development. “There’s a lot of interaction when you’re reading a book with your child,” notes pediatrician Dr. Pamela High. “You’re turning pages, pointing at pictures, talking about the story.” This dynamic is weakened when an e-book is substituted for a physical book.
According to a 2013 study, children from 3 to 5 whose parents read to them from traditional books had higher reading comprehension than kids whose parents read to them using an electronic book. Why? Mainly because the e-book parents and kids spent more time focusing on the device than the story.
On the other hand, parents who read “Goodnight Moon” or “Clifford the Big Red Dog” from physical books were more likely to discuss the story in ways that fostered linguistic ability. “It’s being talked to, not being talked at, that teaches children language,” says Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor at Temple University. “What we’re really after in reading to our children is behavior that sparks a conversation. But if that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it’s not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book.”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? All this disruptive technology is well, disruptive! Aren’t we all distracted enough? And let’s not forget that children’s books are fun and funny. Read on!