Dear Ms. Smartphone: My granddaughters were staying overnight and I found out that they like an app on their dad’s phone before they go to bed. The app reads stories to them in the evening before they fall asleep. So, I downloaded the app (called Calm) to my own phone and they were happy. But, do you think that children this age (3 and 5) should go to sleep with apps that read to them? Myra, Berkeley
Dear Myra: It sounds like you are a thoroughly modern grandmother as you downloaded the reading app for kids, but I don’t think you need to be. As you intuit, it’s wholesome to read bedtime stories from books, not phones. Today’s busy frazzled parents might prefer than an app do that, but IMHO you should question the routine. By the way, the app you downloaded has many features just for adults.
But back to the grandkids. They and their parents are missing out on a wonderful time to come together as a family and share. Reading aloud is a great opportunity for families to wind down the day and indulge together in a flight of fantasy, historical fiction, nature or other literary genres. Since the girls are close in age, they might like the same material. Young children get to cuddle with Dad or Mom and learn that reading is entertaining.
The Spoken Word:
There’s an academic plus to this: hearing words spoken together will increase the girl’s vocabulary. Since the 1980’s researchers have studied what happens if more of children’s first language learning take place in front of the television, and less from adults that read aloud. The TV raised kids suffer a large “vocabulary deficit. ” In school, no Head-Start programs can catch them up. Meanwhile, the children who are read to also become better writers. They are more proficient with sentence structure and grammar.
Regarding the Calm story, podcasts and phone apps seem like radio a when it comes to learning new words. Unlike watching on TV, listeners have to use their imagination to fill in the details. Perhaps they pay more attention. Still, reading from a book is the most expansive. Kids can control the pace of the story- speed up, slow down, or pause. And, adults provide soothing cues to help interpret scary or sad stories. The classic narrative about this is Bambi, the deer who loses his mother.
There is one further reason why I would encourage your son and daughter-in-law to limit reading apps for kids at bedtime. Research is linking difficulty falling asleep and adverse health outcomes with using smartphones before bed. It’s thought that the bluelight from the phone or other factors (unknown) interfere with melatonin production. Children are thought to be even more susceptible to these sleep disruptions.
There are plenty of good children’s books out there, and they are free for you to browse and borrow from your local library. Also, I recommend this classic on children’s reading. Get a copy for your kids and grandkids, so that they can cultivate a read aloud habit. The author wrote the book as he investigated why SAT scores were falling since the 1970’s and why contemporary kids were stressed, sleep-deprived, and anxious. He was critical of the ‘No Child Left Behind Curriculum’.
My take-away is that if do not wish to leave your grandchildren behind, then ‘read forward’ with them. Since your granddaughters are only three and five years old, you have many years to grow that habit together.