If You Give a Toddler an iPad… He’s Going to Want a Thesaurus to Go With It.

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If you give a mouse a glass of milk…” I whisper, wiggling my eyebrows with excitement.

Jasper slugs from his sippy cup, and grins widely as he turns the page..

“He’s going to ask for a cookie to go with it.” Before I finish the last word, my two-year old closes the book and reaches for the next.

Studies show that reading to children as young as eight months old has a significant impact on their vocabulary development, stress management, curiosity and memory. Each day, we read with Jasper for 15 minutes before nap time and another 15 minutes before bed. There is conclusive evidence that reading books to him every day from a young age will increase his vocabulary over a child who is only read to occasionally by 30 million words by the time that he is 3 years old. This gap increases exponentially as children age. There is little that schools can do to close this gap.

As a parent, I truly enjoy reading to my son. I create voices for different characters, and help Jasper to find details in the illustrations. I wonder aloud about what will happen next, or why a character made a decision. When I read to my son, I remember the endless hours that my own mother spent reading with me, practicing these same skills.

Knowing my love of reading and commitment to education, my mom recently shared an article with Patrick and I titled “The First Year.” This article cites a study showing that parents of lower socioeconomic backgrounds are statistically less likely to read to their children than wealthier parents. The study traced these children throughout their education, showing that as they aged, they performed at the bottoms of their classes, and that the educational ladder did not serve as a way to break away from poverty. To solve this problem, some states are offering parenting classes which promote clearer, more effective communication, as well as reading with children. The kids whose parents had attended these classes showed immediate and dramatic academic growth; children and parents alike expressed feeling happier more often.

Before Jasper was even born, Patrick and I had agreed that we would read to our son daily, so this part of the article faced little contention. What prompted an intense family debate was the section of the article that clearly indicated that screen time is not educational. No app for the iPad, “educational” television show or website can help a child develop linguistically. Even e-books are not as good for helping a toddler’s developing brain. The studies are conclusive; children cannot learn language from a screen.

Like most parents, we let our kid watch some TV, and we even let him play with our devices once in a while. This article facilitated the implementation of firm rules and boundaries surrounding screen time in our house. I’ll admit it that these rules can be hard to follow. Patrick and I love TV- there is no denying that it is a great, free babysitter, and it seems like our phones are always in our hands.

As parents, we decided that the best thing for Jasper is to do our best to limit the screen time, and to crack the books. We’re going to keep trying to limit the screen time and increase his book time. Last night he demanded that I read MORE to him NOW. The English teacher in me couldn’t have been happier.

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