I heard this story on NPR the other day, about a tech reporter who’s been trying out different children’s book apps with his three year old daughter (also named Lily, coincidentally).
Each night, the reporter cuddles up with his little girl just before she goes to bed, and he asks her whether she’d like a real book or one on the iPad (she usually chooses the latter).
As you might guess, there are all sorts of bells and whistles that come along with iPad children’s books, such as animation, songs, games, etc. And the reporter notes that although his daughter is very passive while reading “regular” books, she’s much more actively engaged with the iPad stories, by virtue of the opportunities they provide to interact with them.
That makes sense to me. And because the act of reading has already changed drastically during the course of my lifetime – and presumably will continue to do so, at a rapid pace – maybe this is the way to best prepare kids for a life of reading, and get them excited about it from an early age.
It’s a tired cliche at this point to cluck and wring our hands at the loss of “simplicity” in our lives, and to shake our heads at how technology pervades every part of our existence – particularly how we communicate with friends and family. This is the world we live in, and no amount of nostalgia is going to hold back the tide.
But even while acknowledging all this to be true, I nonetheless felt a little sad while listening to this radio story. I’m sure the little girl is more “passive” while listening to traditional, old school books being read to her. But isn’t there something to be said for moments of passivity? Particularly in children? Since we spend the entirety of our adult lives doggedly chasing after our own tails, and scrambling to get done what has to be done (while maybe, if we can, also pursuing our ambitions), isn’t childhood the perfect time to allow, or even encourage, moments of quiet contemplation?
I may be coming out of left field, but I almost feel that because our adult lives are so over-programmed and crazy, we feel like our kids need constant stimulation, too. As if this is the norm for all humans, young and old alike. But as the mother of a fiercely world-curious two year old, I’m here to tell you that little ones are pretty stimulated all the time, whether we provide the entertainment or not.
And this seems all the more reason to invite a good stretch of passivity into the bedtime routine, as far as I’m concerned. A chance to slow down, focus on each other, share something together, and listen.
Which leads me to my next point, which is, the iPad bedtime story option removes something crucial from the bedtime ritual: hearing the father’s/parent’s voice narrating the story. My hope is that (our) Lily’s earliest associations with book-reading will involve me and Joe being lovingly, intrinsically linked to the process in every way. The feel of sitting on my lap, under a small quilt my mother made for Lily; the sense of my arm curled around her back; the smell of my shampoo; the way I cue her to turn the page (“next page, please”); how we both stop to point out things in the illustrations, or ask and answer spontaneous questions; and yes, the sound of my voice responding to her, as well as telling the story itself.
There’s a reason why, when I get the chance to attend an author’s reading, I feel nearly intoxicated by the experience. Shutting off the world for a while and just listening to one person tell a story, presuming it’s a decent one, is such a rare pleasure in our go-go-go society. Why wouldn’t I want to give my kid the chance to develop a deep and abiding love for this old-as-time practice?
Perhaps I’m over-romanticizing this. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should confess that I don’t have a Blackberry or iPhone; I have only the most rudimentary texting skills (texting isn’t even part of my calling plan); I kind of despise Twitter; I keep my daily calendar in a little paper booklet; and I’ve lately struggled to download anything but music onto my iPod. So a super tech-savvy modern woman, I am not.
Plus, I give full kudos to this tech reporter for spending one-on-one time with his daughter each night, sharing stories with her. But personally, I like keeping technology at arm’s length a bit. It makes it easier to shut it all off for a while.
And do something like read a real book to my kid.