This was in the Lower Elementary Weekly Newsletter at Bergamo, but is a good read for all of our families at each level!
We have been talking quite a bit lately at school about reading, writing and screens. Over the past 16 years of teaching and especially in the last five years, I have seen a significant change in the way that children are processing language in both reading and writing. Although not anti-electronics or screens (I use my computer and phone as much as the next person), I am greatly concerned about the trends that I am seeing. While my job is to figure out the difficulties children are having and help them, I am hoping that we can team up to help our children limit their time on screens (iPads, television, video games, etc.).
I am convinced that the differences I am seeing in children today have less to do with the quality of screen time than in the loss of time spent doing other things that help develop the parts of the brain that process written language. Writing is a human invention and not something that comes naturally or automatically to children. As with every skill one wishes to master, reading and writing require many hours of practice for mastery. With so many screens, children are exposed to language in a different way than they were even ten years ago and the adults in their lives are modeling reading and writing in a much different way, as well.
Some of the ways that children are experiencing language differently are:
- Using “how to” videos as opposed to learning from a book
- Playing more video games as opposed to board/card games – video games require little to no reading. Most board games have a language component (think Monopoly)
- Shopping lists are typed or dictated to phones instead of on a written list.
- Adults are consuming written media via devices as opposed to printed books and newspapers.
- Adults type emails and texts instead of writing written notes or letters.
- Auto correct is automatic on devices.
Children no longer have the same “eye ball time” on text that they did in past years. We used to suggest that children have twenty minutes of reading each night at home. With less time spent with residual text in his or her environment, I feel this is simply not enough.
I’m not suggesting that you up your child’s reading to an hour a day. I believe this is a much longer conversation and one that I hope I can perhaps talk more about in a coffee chat. But until that time, I have a few ideas to help get a little more reading and writing exposure to our children:
- Make sure your children have a clear limit on screen time. Think more about the number of hours they have awake without a screen than how many hours they get to watch/play something. Now is the time to set those limits – it will be nearly impossible to take it away later.
- Read aloud to your child every day.
- Have your child read to you. Please make sure that the reading material is interesting to your child AND that the material is at his or her comfortable reading level – not what level you think they should be reading at, but what they can.
- Instead of watching movies in the car, play a game where you see how many signs your child can read along the way or find all the words on signs that start with a particular letter or play travel bingo.
- Go to the library every week and let your child check out books that he or she is interested in. Get some books for yourself, as well.
- Cook from recipe books.
- Write grocery lists on paper and have your child help write the list with you.
- Let your children see you reading every day for pleasure.
- Write letters.
- Put notes in your child’s lunch box.
- Allow only books and writing/coloring activities at outings away from home (coffee shops, restaurants, meetings) instead of screens – let the iPad be an “at home” device. If your child gets bored and has to interact with the world, so much the better!
I told the students that when I was a child we didn’t get a television until I was five and when we did we could only watch it on non-school nights, that we didn’t have VCR’s, DVD’s, computers, cell phones or iPad. One boy exclaimed, “How did you live?!” I told them that my sisters and I read books and played outside. Some children were intrigued enough to go home and ask to try this.
One thing I’ve noticed has stayed constant over the years. That is the children’s desire to learn. They continue to have a great thirst for knowledge and understanding. They still want to find out why and to make discoveries for themselves. I know that together as a team we can help them satisfy this great curiosity about the world!