You see them everywhere -- children in strollers being pushed along by a mom, dad, or caregiver who is busily chatting on a cell phone. Sometimes, the phone isn't in evidence, thanks to Bluetooth or other technology, and it looks like the adult is talking to the child. But then you realize that there is little or no eye contact between the parent and child and that the conversation is clearly not child focused. While we know that sometimes a call can't be postponed, it's really a shame that these caregivers and their stroller passengers are missing a key opportunity to build language skills and future literacy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is one of many organizations that urges parents to take every opportunity to talk to their children. They point out that there is no evidence that any DVD, CD, or computer program can do more for the development of a child than having their parent or caregiver speak to them. Singing works fine too. The key is eye contact, facial expressions, and language, even if your child is too young to understand what you are saying. Babies and young children learn from the world around them and the more language stimulation they take in the sooner and better their own use of language will develop.
The National Institute for Literacy has produced guidelines for building language in young children that stress not just talking at them, but talking with them in a back-and-forth conversation, giving children who have started to use language a chance to practice and develop their skills. These guidelines were developed following an extensive investigation by the National Early Literacy Panel and the panel's report, issued in 2009.
So, as difficult as it may be to have a day filled with talking to an infant or conversing with a toddler, think about how you are helping to build your child's vocabulary and future literacy skills and put down the cell phone. It's the least we can do as parents.
Photo used under Creative Commons from abbybatchelder