Stories about: language development in children

Do toddlers and iPads mix?

Children are using iPads earlier and earlier. Is it affecting development? flickr/remcovandermeer

Apple’s iPhone and iPad technology has revolutionized communication. The way millions of Americans interact with media, personal contacts and the Internet is now largely funneled through an Apple shaped logo. But are these machines so influential they could shape the mental and emotional development of young users?

Because these devices are so new, there’s not enough hard scientific data to know for sure. But the fact that more than half of the young children in the United States now have access to an iPad, iPhone or similar touch-screen device means the time to ask these questions is now.

So that’s exactly what Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Worthen did. Worthen spoke with many childhood development experts, including Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health, to find out how touch-screen technology is affecting the development of millions of young users. Here’s a brief video describing what he learned.

Until more data is collected, the scientific community remains split on how touch-screen technology affects kids. But there is one thing that they all agree on: parents know their children best and should be the final decision-maker on if and when this type of technology is appropriate in their house.

Does your child use an iPad, iPhone or tablet? If so, are you pleased or worried about her reaction to its interactive nature? Let us know in the comment section or our Facebook wall.

Read the entire Wall Street Journal on toddlers and iPads. Dr. Rich participated a live chat on the topic with parents on The Wall Street Journal’s website. Follow the conversation here: Should Your Toddler Use a Tablet?

You may also enjoy these stories on how touch-screen technology has shaped the lives of some of our patients and their families:

Are kids benefiting from all these electronics?

The new digital reality: why parents and pediatricians may need to rethink their messaging

Can the new iPad take therapy apps to the next level?

Mobile Mamas: Parenting in the smartphone age

Touchscreen technology helps kids with cerebral palsy

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Are babies natural lip readers?

When I think of lip readers, I imagine adults who have worked for years to master the skill. There’s no denying that to become an efficient lip reader takes a lot of practice, but as it turns out the root of the talent is innate in all people.

New research suggests we all learn to “read” lips as babies, and studying mouths plays a very big role in how and when babies learn to talk. Scientists have discovered that starting around 6 months, babies start studying the mouths of the adults talking to them, instead of focusing solely on the eyes. In doing so they begin to learn how to position their own mouths to form certain sounds, including the much anticipated first utterance of “mama” and “dada.”

Kevin Nugent, PhD, founder and Director of the Brazelton Institute at Children’s, a research and training organization dedicated to studying the development of newborns and young children, was recently interviewed by Fox News to get his take on how babies learn to speak by watching our lips.

In addition to language development, Dr. Nugent is an expert in how environment affects other developmental milestone of childhood. Here’s a recent Thriving blog where the doctor discusses how the style of daycare a child attends can affect her development. He’s also the author of “Your Baby is Speaking to You: A Visual Guide to the Amazing Behaviors of your Newborn and Growing Baby.”

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Can toys and DVDs really help my baby’s language development?

Yesterday marked the close of Better Speech and Hearing Month, and as most parents will tell you, few developmental milestones are more exciting than a baby learning to talk. From sounds and syllables, to words and sentences, the first few months of a child’s language development can be some of the proudest moments for parents. But because budding communication skills are so important (and fun to watch) a lot of toy companies have flooded the market with products designed to assist in children’s speech development. As a parent it’s natural to want to give your young talker every advantage available, but are fancy toys and DVDs really the best ways to help your child’s language development? Hope Dickinson, MS, CCC-SLP, coordinator of the Speech-Language Pathology Services at Children’s Hospital Boston at Waltham and Lisa Schonberger, MS, CCC-SLP coordinator of speech-language pathology services in  Children’s Hospital Boston at Lexington are here with some answers.

Hope Dickinson, MS, CCC-SLP

Parents often ask the clinicians in the Speech Language Pathology Program here at Children’s Hospital Boston which toys are the best to promote language and communication in young children. With so many items available it can seem overwhelming, but our philosophy is that the chosen toy or activity is not nearly as important as the interaction that takes place between a parent and child while the toy is being used. As a rule, you don’t need to spend money on the latest and greatest educational toys or high-tech gadgets; most of the time it’s the simple, “old fashioned” toys that work best. By requiring more interaction and communication between child and caregiver during playtime, these toys do more to promote language development than many of their next generation equivalents. When choosing toys for your young talker, here are a few tips:

  • Avoid too many “solitary” activities like video games, computer games and DVDs or TV programs (this includes all the “educational” ones too). Instead, have your child engage in activities that require interaction, sharing and conversation. There is not a DVD or computer game out there that can provide better vocabulary input than an involved parent or caregiver.
  • Unplug your toy box! Newer versions of old classics (e.g., ring stackers, farms, dollhouses, toy cars and dolls…) often come with lights and sounds nowadays. Press on the mud button and you hear a pig squeal, squeeze a doll’s foot and she asks for a hug, etc. The level of sophistication in some of these products is a testament to how far toys have come in a few years, but when a toy does all of the “work,” there is less need for the child to use his own imagination. They become more passive learners. If you have electronic versions of some of these toys, take the batteries out and let your child develop her pretend, problem solving and communication skills while playing with them.
  • Pretend play items such as a farm, zoo, doctor kit, workbench, doll house or play phones encourage narrative play and help young children’s language and social skills. Use them with your children and you’re likely to be amazed with all the scenarios and storylines they come up with. As their playmate, you can teach new words or concepts related to what you are playing with, help them understand cause and effect, learn sequences and solve problems.
  • Lisa Schonberger, MS, CCC-SLP

    Look for toys that can be used in a number of ways and can therefore “grow” with your child. Blocks can be stacked and knocked down, used as chairs for dolls, lined up and counted, sorted by color, used to build a house and make a great low-calorie substitution for pretend “cookies” at a tea party. This symbolic substitution is an important cognitive step, and is great fun too.

  • Board games are not bored games. Games can be lively and interactive and are great for language growth. Games can be useful for building memory skills and vocabulary, and for teaching concepts like colors, sizes, and quantities. Some favorites in this category are Go Fish, Blurt, Scattergories, Boggle, Simon Says, Quiddler, I Spy, 20 Questions, Scrabble, Guess Who? and Memory.
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