Elaine Wynn is a former grade school teacher and mother to three wonderful kids. Though she took time off to raise her family, she remained dedicated to education as a supporter of literary causes and the arts. Most recently, she has taken an interest in personalized books for kids and loves to find new ways to encourage reading.
I’ve heard parents brag about not having a television, how their kids will not fall under the influence of this almighty scourge of the developing mind. All I can think is that’s nice. It’s true. It is nice. While I agree—to a degree—I don’t think that’s the right attitude to have. It’s negative. Children under 2 shouldn’t be subject to the box (or panel) of light, colors, and sound. Studies have shown it to be “detrimental” and the American Academy of Pediatrics has released guidelines for parents to that effect. That isn’t to say that many parents actually heed this insight, since we all know there are times when that television becomes beyond tempting and we find ourselves putting the little ones in front of it for a much needed break. But, a television should never replace a book. In fact, it can’t.
Why? Well, as mentioned, television is detrimental to a child’s developing mind. How it’s detrimental isn’t entirely clear, but for children under 2 years of age the impact can last for years. What is known is children who watch television regardless of the programming, have shorter attention spans, and their language skills develop at a much slower pace than their peers.
Stunted language development played a role in the 2010 lawsuit involving the “Baby Einstein” series of home videos. The videos, which were marketed as “educational,” were, allegedly, not as educational as the packaging suggested. Part of the problem may be the fact that parents are simply placing their kids in front of the television and walking off or avoiding any further interaction with their child as they are preoccupied with the program. At that point, the experience is purely passive. The child may be seeing shapes and colors, and hearing sounds, but there is little to no context and they are incapable of interpreting what they are seeing. In effect, they aren’t learning anything.
On the other hand, reading has been found to increase the attention spans in children, plus they increase a child’s language skills. Why is pretty obvious, since children have the opportunity to see and hear a broad range of words (typically a broader range than your average television program—depending on the book). But, most importantly, reading offers something more that television simply can’t touch. Human interaction.
When you’re reading to your child, your engaging them, you’re with them. They’re listening to your voice, they’re seeing the words, the pictures, your face, and on and on. They can ask questions and get answers. It’s an active experience. Television can be more than a passive experience, but attention is inevitably scattered and their often is little to no depth in programming aimed at the five and under group. You often can’t see the words as they are spoken. You don’t see language structure. In short, television is a limiting experience. And, no matter how it’s spun, “educational” programming or “edutainment,” or whatever marketers want to call it, does not exist. This doesn’t mean programs are completely devoid of educational value, but when human interaction is stifled, learning is stifled.