Coaching parents to close the word gap

Digital word counters and coaching for parents on toddler talk could help close the “word gap,” hope researchers in Providence, Rhode Island.

Fifty-five toddlers in welfare families, including 2.5-year-old Nylasia Jordan, are part of the pilot, reports John Tulenko for PBS.

Social worker Courtney Soules shows Nylasia’s father that she’s heard 5,000 words on the day she was recorded.  An average child will hear about 16,000 words a day.

There was almost no conversation from 10 am to 4 pm — and lots of TV time. The graphs are helpful, says Freddie Jordan. “Everybody wants their kids to learn more, talk more, full words.”

Soules is encouraging the father to talk more.

Modeling conversation, so, asking her questions, and giving her choices.

And have her point. And as she’s pointing at, say…

And also labeling, whether you’re taking a walk and that you’re pointing out birds and trees, and animals to when you are sitting in the house and that you’re reading a book together.

So far, the pilot has raised the daily word count by 300 to 500 words, not enough to make a difference.

Toddlers turn from TV to tech

Toddlers are using technology but turning away from TV, according to a national survey. Thirty-eight percent of children under age 2 have used a mobile device, up from 11 percent two years ago, according to Common Sense Media, reports the San Jose Mercury News. At the same, young children are spending less time watching TV.

Three-quarters of children ages 0 to 8 have access to mobile devices such as smart phones, tablet computers and iPod Touches, the survey found. The proportion of young children using the devices nearly doubled, from 38 percent two years ago to 72 percent, and average duration of use tripled from 5 minutes to 15 minutes daily.

Children up to age 8 average nearly two hours a day in front of video screens. That’s 21 minutes less than they did two years ago, according to Common Sense Media.

Half, or 57 minutes, of screen time is spent watching TV, a drop of 9 minutes a day from two years ago. Of TV time, one-third is spent watching prerecorded programs on a DVR. Ten minutes a day is spent playing video games, down by 4 minutes from two years ago.

Children are more likely to watch educational programs on TV than on smart phones, the survey found.

A third of children have televisions in their bedrooms. Lower-income families were more likely to have a TV on all the time compared to than higher-income and better-educated families.

Where there is still a gap between the rich and poor in ownership of mobile devices, it is narrowing. Among poor families — those earning less than $30,000 a year — access to smart phones increased from 27 percent to 51 percent in two years, while tablet ownership went from 2 percent to 20 percent.

Yet Common Sense pointed out an “app gap,” partly because only 46 percent of lower-income families have access to high-speed Internet, and therefore have less access to downloadable educational programs.

There’s also a huge reading gap. About half of parents said they read to their children under 2 ever day; a quarter read every week. One fifth never read to their children under 2.

iPhones for toddlers

Mommy’s iPhone is now the favorite toy of many toddlers, reports the New York Times.

Many iPhone apps on the market are aimed directly at preschoolers, many of them labeled “educational,” such as Toddler Teasers: Shapes, which asks the child to tap a circle or square or triangle; and Pocket Zoo, which streams live video of animals at zoos around the world. There are “flash cards” aimed at teaching children to read and spell, and a “Wheels on the Bus” app that sings the popular song in multiple languages. Then there’s the new iGo Potty app (sponsored by Kimberly-Clark, maker of Huggies training pants), with automated phone calls reminding toddlers that it’s time to “go.”

Child development specialists disapprove.

Preschoolers need to move and manipulate objects, not touch a screen, said Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist in Colorado. “Here’s the parent busily doing something and the kid is playing with the electronic device. Where is the language? There is none.”

Tovah P. Klein, the director of Columbia University’s Barnard College Center for Toddler Development (where signs forbid the use of cellphones and other wireless devices) worries that fixation on the iPhone screen every time a child is out and about with parents will limit the child’s ability to experience the wider world. “Children at this age are so curious and they’re observing everything,” she said. “If you’re engrossed in this screen you’re not seeing or observing or taking it in.”

Debate on the iPhone-as-toy issue is fierce on the mommy blogs, reports the Times.

I got a smart phone (Droid X) not long ago. On my last trip, I used to check e-mail and browse the web, including approving blog comments, while on the go. It is somewhat addictive.

Australia: no TV for under-twos

Children under two should watch no TV and be kept away from computers or electronic games, say Australian government guidelines.

The guidelines warn that exposure to television at such an early age can delay language development, affect the ability of a child to concentrate and lead to obesity.

The recommendations also suggest that children aged two to five should watch no more than one hour of television a day.

The advice to parents — and proposed rules for child-care centers — call for no “screen time” for fear it will crowd out active play.