How videos build better readers

Games, videos and other digital media can improve children’s reading argues Tap, Click, Read, a new book by Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine. Their work is funded by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

“An alarming number of children in the United States never become good readers,” Guernsey tells NPR. More than two-thirds of fourth graders — 80 percent of children in low-income families — are not “proficient” readers.

Reading isn’t just about decoding skills, says Guernsey.  Children “need to be able to understand the words they read and have a base of knowledge (in art, science, social studies and beyond) to help them make inferences and connect the dots.”

Children can “build background knowledge at the tap of a screen,” says Levine. A child who’s reading about penguins in Antarctica, can watch a video to make sense of the words she’s decoding.

In Beyond “Turn It Off,” the American Academy of Pediatrics revises its advice to parents on media use.

Kids add digital media to TV time

From birth through age eight, children are spending more time with digital media such as computers, video games, cell phones and video iPods, concludes a study by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit. However, most screen time still is devoted to watching TV.

Half of children from babies to 8-year-olds have access to a smart phone, video iPod, iPad or other tablet device. Some 47 percent of higher-income parents have downloaded apps for their children, compared to 14 percent of lower-income children, leading to warnings of an “app gap.”

Half of low-income families with young children have a computer at home compared to 91 percent of higher-income families.

Computer use is pervasive among very young children, with half (53%) of all 2- to 4-year- olds having ever used a computer, and nine out of ten (90%) 5- to 8-year-olds having done so. . . . Among all children who have used a computer, the average age at first use was just 3 ½ years old.

However, TV is still king of the toddlers’ jungle. In a typical day, nearly half of babies and toddlers watch TV or DVDs for an average of nearly two hours. For all children in their first year, the average is 53 minutes of TV time versus 23 minutes being read to.

Two-thirds (65%) of 0- to 8-year-olds watch TV at least once every day (ranging from 37% of 0-1 year- olds, to 73% of 2- to 4-year-olds and 72% of 5- to 8-year-olds). Forty-two percent have a TV in their bedroom, and 39% live in a home where the TV is left on all (10%) or most (29%) of the time, whether anyone is watching it or not. Children this age spend an average of 1:44 watching TV or videos in a typical day, compared to :29 reading, :29 listening to music, and :25 playing computer or video games.

Black and Hispanic children and lower-income children spend much more time with media than whites and children with educated parents. Sixty-four percent of low-income children have a TV in their bedroom, compared to 20 percent of children in affluent homes.

Smart phones and iPads are becoming baby toys, notes the New York Times.

Jeannie Crowley, who helps faculty members at the Bank Street College of Education integrate technology into teaching, got rid of television at home because of the ads and branding.

But Ms. Crowley hands her iPad over to her 19-month-old daughter, Maggie, to play with the Smule piano app. And at bedtime, the family often watches “30 Rock” on the computer, Maggie dancing to the opening music. The toddler also loves YouTube videos of barking dogs.

And she is also adept with her mother’s smartphone.

“She learned how to unlock it, observationally, about two months ago.” Ms Crowley said. “About two weeks ago, she was on the train with me, and she popped the slide bar.”

. . . Most of all, Maggie likes to watch the cellphone videos her parents take of her stomping on leaves, getting sticky sap on her hands or wearing her new pink polka dot pajamas.

My step-granddaughter, two-year-old Julia learned to access the ring tones on my old cell phone. She presses a button, the tune plays, we dance.