Clifford the Big Red Dog looks fabulous on an iPad. He sounds good, too — tap the screen and hear him pant as a blue truck roars into the frame. “Go, truck, go!” cheers the narrator.I particularly like this example:
But does this count as story time? Or is it just screen time for babies?
It is a question that parents, pediatricians and researchers are struggling to answer as children’s books, just like all the other ones, migrate to digital media.
For years, child development experts have advised parents to read to their children early and often, citing studies showing its linguistic, verbal and social benefits. In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors to remind parents at every visit that they should read to their children from birth, prescribing books as enthusiastically as vaccines and vegetables.
On the other hand, the academy strongly recommends no screen time for children under 2, and less than two hours a day for older children.
At a time when reading increasingly means swiping pages on a device, and app stores are bursting with reading programs and learning games aimed at infants and preschoolers, which bit of guidance should parents heed?
Patricia K. Kuhl, a director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, led a study in 2003 that compared a group of 9-month-old babies who were addressed in Mandarin by a live instructor with a group addressed in Mandarin by an instructor on a DVD. Children in a third group were exposed only to English.I have a co-worker whose child is not yet a year and a half old. She reads to her daughter, and the child does not watch TV. She knows Elmo and Mickey, but not from cartoons. I think that's a good step. At work, I coordinate an early literacy programme called 'Reach Out and Read', a national initiative to bring age-appropriate books to children 6 months to five years old who visit our clinic, and to encourage parents to read to their children. I know kids are fascinated by screens both small and large, and it's easy to let them be babysat by a device, but it's much better to interactively read from a real book, in my mind, where they can touch the pages and interact with both parent and book. We'll see what the research eventually says. But my gut feeling is that books are the way to go for young ones. At least one study I've read says people comprehend much better from a physical book. I have to admit, I tend to skim more when I 'read' an e-book myself. If adults don't fully engage with the words and pictures in front of them, what do you think toddlers do? Just my two cents' worth, anyway.
“The way the kids were staring at the screen, it seemed obvious they would learn better from the DVDs,” she said. But brain scans and language testing revealed that the DVD group “learned absolutely nothing,” Dr. Kuhl said.
“Their brain measures looked just like the control group that had just been exposed to English. The only group that learned was the live social interaction group.”
In other words, “it’s being talked with, not being talked at,” that teaches children language, Dr. Hirsh-Pasek said.