Last year, my husband and I embarked on our very first long distance vacation as a family. Pulling out of our driveway on the way to the airport, with our boys dozing in the back seat, we felt completely confident about the upcoming four-hour flight to Los Angeles. After all, we had pulled out all the stops in order to make this journey a success. For starters, we had filled our carry-on bags with all kinds of rare and fabulous treats. I had stocked up on items usually banned in our house (lollypops, chocolate milk, and Poptarts to name a few) and our bags strained at the seams with all of the never-before-seen toys and books I had purchased in the days before our departure. We had even sprung for the extra seat for our toddler even though it was well before his second birthday, and he could have sat on our laps. Heck, I even followed the trusted advice of my mommy friends and dosed my oldest with Benadryl exactly 20 minutes before departure in an attempt to conk him out. We thought we had this whole flying-with-kids-thing down no problem.
Alas, it was not to be. As soon as the door of the plane shut on that ill fated day, the trouble began. Moments after the announcements started, our toddler lost it. And I mean lost it. Not just your standard toddler emotional breakdown, but rather a continuous, blood-curdling shriekfest of epic proportions. This was the tantrum of all tantrums. As we fumbled with every new toy, treat, or book to try to appease him, I thought for sure we’d be kicked right off the plane before it even left the gate. But miraculously, or perhaps unfortunately, the flight attendants ignored us as they walked by preparing the plane for takeoff. The other passengers shot us death stares (no doubt wishing they’d taken the earlier flight) but we were otherwise left alone in our miserable situation.
As the plane jolted forward, the tantrum continued. Suddenly my son began retching and heaving, and it suddenly dawned on me what was about to happen. Throughout his life, when my oldest gets really, really upset, he has been known to projectile vomit. No, no, no. Please God, not here, not now.
Unanswered prayers. The vomit came hard and fast. He threw up all over himself, the window next to him, the seat in front of him, and his father to the right of him. The plane continued to climb higher and higher and our co-passengers continued to look on with mingled horror and disgust. I was spared for a few minutes, until the little one strapped to my chest began vomiting in solidarity with his older brother. It went down my shirt, in my ears, and all through my hair, producing what we fondly refer to as “vomit dreadlocks”. Needless to say, it was a not a flattering look for me.
The rest of the flight was no better and consisted of more screaming, more death stares, and suffocating vomit fumes all around. In other words, it was four hours of pure hell. After that, my husband and I vowed not to fly with the children until they were at least 12 years old. But of course, some months later, family obligations necessitated another trip out West. Had you told me in the wake of our first family vacation fiasco that flying with our boys would soon be hassle free, I would have shaken my vomit dreadlocks in despair and refused to believe you. Yet since discovering my secret weapon (aka the iPad) it’s entirely true.
Because the iPad has the power to avert all sorts of catastrophes, it enjoys V.I.P. status in my house. My kids are obsessed with the iPad “books,” most notably “The Monster at the End of This Book” by Sesame Street. Perhaps even more than the TV, the iPad has the power to keep young children sitting and staring for long periods of time.
Study after study for decades has shown that reading often to your kids is the best academic advantage you can give them. The experts seem to agree that it’s more important than your parental education level or socioeconomic status when predicting future success in school. So we’re supposed to read to them as often as possible, I get that. But do the books on the iPad (or the Kindle Fire, if you’re so inclined), count?
I posed this question to two parent educators of my early childhood development class. These women both have degrees in child development and are up on all the current research, as mandated by the state of Minnesota, to teach their courses. Both explained that since the iPad and similar technologies have only been around since early 2010, there’s hardly any research out there. Experts have not reached a firm consensus on whether iPad book time counts as actual book time. So far though, the research that my teachers have seen suggests that iPad book time counts not as reading time but as “screen time,” i.e. it’s lumped into the same category as watching TV and playing video games. And accordingly, since it’s screen time, it should be limited as much as possible.
I’m disappointed, but I can’t say I’m surprised. The ebooks are filled with animated characters, sound effects, music, and activities such as drawing and coloring. The ones I’ve seen really are much more like a children’s computer game than a children’s book – that’s why they are so powerful! A recent study by the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative (cited here in The New York Times) says that reading ebooks is not as educational as reading traditional books, and furthermore, use of these ebooks might even impede our children’s ability to learn!
The study found that parents interact totally differently with their kids when reading ebooks than they do when reading traditional books. Parents reading traditional books out loud tend to interact and converse with their children constantly, such as asking questions like, “What do you think will happen next?” and “Is little Billy feeling sad because he lost his ball? Remember how you felt when you lost your ball?” Instead, when reading books over the iPad, parents tend to put all their focus on how best to use the device, for example, “Be careful. Push this button and hold it like this. If you touch it here, Grover will pop out of his hiding place.” The study found that this inherent difference made children slower to read and comprehend a story.
I searched and searched for another study contradicting these findings. Unfortunately though, the only positive ebooks studies I could find were aimed at much older children and compared using iPad textbooks with traditional textbooks, which wasn’t relevant to my questions about the iPad’s impact on early literacy.
Although I have discovered the iPad to be a potent weapon in the fight against travel fiascos, I must admit that even before I started researching the subject I did worry if my kids’ love for the iPad books would somehow make real books seem less magical. With all the amazing bells and whistles in every children’s iPad book, I can see how overuse of the technology might be setting my kids up to become lovers of video games rather than lovers of reading. That weighs on my conscience a bit and helps me use our iPad only in moderation. On ordinary days, old-fashioned books will be the rule. Sometimes though, desperate times call for desperate measures. Next time I’m boarding a plane with two little ones I’m not going to be worrying about laying a foundation for literacy. I just want to keep everyone’s lunches in their tummies.
Bye for now!