Sunday, April 3, 2011

eBooks for Babies?

I was pretty floored when I read this article earlier this week. I've been stewing on it for a few days and today posted my thoughts in the comments section. The topic is using digital media with children, including babies and toddlers, in order to help them learn to read.

With the incredible boom of options in ebooks and digital media, this is a very important topic to discuss. Technology has a huge role in the way kids learn, and has made enormous strides in terms of access to information since I was in school. SMARTboards, Skype, and YouTube offer great enhancements to classroom learning.

But.

I don't want to sound like a dinosaur, but why do pre-readers need to read books on a computer?

As I stated in my comments (pasted below), I am not a technophobe or a book "purist". I read eBooks. But for babies and toddlers? For them, reading is more about the experience: cuddling with mom or dad or an older sibling and getting some one-on-one time; having the chance to touch and manipulate the book for themselves; being able to flip back to their favorite page or to an image that caught their eye.

In his article, Dr. Gentry does emphasize that reading with babies and toddlers should be a pleasant experince that focuses on the above, and offers suggestions on how to do this using digital media. Robin Raskin writes a blog about raising children in a digital world. Clearly there are parents buying in to the idea that technology can give their kids and educational jumpstart. Hello, Baby Einstein and Leap Frog. And I'm not saying it's all bad.

But.

I may be in the minority, but I do have qualms about the quantity and quality of digital media in our kids' lives. (Remember my recent post about the texting language seeping into homework assignments?) My thought is: kids get enough screen time. When you sit down and read with your child, read an actual book.

I'm really interested in what others think about this. Join the discussion?

My comments on "Digital Media and the Future of Beginning Reading: Brilliant Babies--at the Computer--Reading Words!"

I appreciate the information in this article, and the intent to encourage parents to read with their children no matter what their age. Not only are books so vital for our children's emerging language and reading skills as well as their intellectual and social development, but so too is that "cuddle time" we get while reading to or with our children.

However, I am honestly surprised to see a literacy expert advocating ebooks in place of printed books, especially for babies and toddlers. I realize you are not suggesting we use the computer for every reading experience we initiate with our child, but I am skeptical of the effects of even occasional "screen time" on young children.

I am a children's librarian and one of the most important aspects of my job is to assist parents and caregivers in getting their children ready to read and ready for school. We inform parents how to promote and recognize emerging "reading skills" in their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. As simple as it sounds, one of these skills is manipulating a book: understanding how to hold a book, turn the pages, and a recognition that the book proceeds from front to back.

In addition, many children, and all babies, are tactile learners. They need to touch and feel and explore with their hands (and even their mouths!) to make discoveries and connections in the world around them.

These are important literacy building blocks that computers cannot facilitate.

I am not anti-computer, a techno-phobe, or anything like that. I spend a great deal of time on the computer. I read ebooks and own a Kindle. My 4 year-old watches TV.

But, I don't agree with babies and toddlers being lumped into the "under 5" demographic that gets an hour of screen time or more each day. An hour a day is fine, and probably a bit on the low side, for a 3, 4 or 5 year-old, but I think that is huge for an infant or toddler.

Technology replaces and enhances many things very well. But, for a young child it just doesn't do justice to a touch-and-feel or pop-up book. I hate to think of the delight of these reading experiences being replaced with a flat screen. I appreciate that we all want the best for our children, but I hope if parents introduce digital media with their young children, they do so sparingly.

Thank you for broaching the topic and providing a forum for discussion.

2 comments:

Cozy in Texas said...

I agree, it's as much about the cuddle as it is about the read.
Ann

Linda McInnis, M.Ed. said...

I realize I am late to this discussion but I only just came upon your post. I wrote a review of a beloved board book turned app at my site, The Baby Book Nook. Like you I approached the topic with some trepidation. Like you, I gently protested with a single word paragraph: But ...