An interesting thing happened recently. We celebrated a toddler’s third birthday a few days back and, among the gifts the young one received, besides the usual counting blocks and plastic toys, were a Kidscreen—a computer-of-sorts containing games and videos—and a couple of books.
The mother plugged in the Kidscreen and went through the various electronic offerings. After a few minutes, however, the child lost interest in the gadget and started his usual running around. I picked up the little one, gathered the books, and started to read. Needless to say, the child, whose senses had become overly-excited by the birthday celebration (and a bit too much sugar) sat down quietly, intensely absorbed by the story-telling. When both books were read, the request came “Again!”
In a way, it is not surprising. Children are not impressed by expensive gifts, but value the personal connection that the simple ones provide. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommend no screen time for babies younger than eighteen months and not more than one hour a day for children up to five. Of course, educational programs help toddlers learn the alphabet, for example, but at that age, toddlers’ needs extend far beyond what a screen can provide.
Of greater benefit to a child is the reading of a book by an adult. Children feel secure when read to, and the act solidifies the child-parent relationship. It develops listening skills which are of paramount importance in the process of learning.
Research has shown that cognitive skills developed by this practice, extend well into the teenage years, and lead to higher scores in language and problem-solving proficiencies. Toddlers usually have very short attention spans but develop concentration and self-discipline when read to.
The greatest benefit, however, is the development of creativity and imagination. When read to, my little friend’s pupils enlarged and by his hands, mouth and eyes, he displayed the corresponding emotions and wonder of the story being read.
When to commence reading to babies? Start today! Even if they can’t follow the plot, babies, being emotionally observant, can easily discern follow their parent’s feelings. This, in itself, is a great first step in helping them in understanding the world around them. Happy Reading!