Babies: The Real World or a Tablet Screen?

silo

The silo!

A baby carrier with an iPad holder?

Don’t babies need to be looking around and figuring out things about all the people and things around them? You know, mommy, daddy, toy, cat, dog, book, noise, quiet. I watched my daughter observing and responding to the differences in colors, light, contrasts, and people — real people — practically from the day she was born. Babies may not be able to talk or even move for a long time after birth, but they can watch real life —  and they work hard and learn a lot while they do all of that looking.

Seriously, do parents want a baby to stop figuring out and organizing the real world just to look at a screen — even for a short time?

Downstairs in my basement is an old-fashioned and wonderful Fisher-Price plastic barn and silo filled with people and animals. Two generations of babies and toddlers loved those toys, and now they’re waiting down there in a corner somewhere for the next child. The silo provided hours of interest for our daughter. Once she could sit up she started watching this bright read object. Inside were safe plastic animal toys for when she was learning to grab — but mostly she would knock the silo over or bang on it.

It was fun to watch her figure out that the silo wasn’t really for banging on and that all of those little things inside (those big enough to avoid problems in her mouth) weren’t just for tasting or dropping. Eventually she learned that she could bat at the silo and things just might fall out of it. Later near the end of her first year she connected a plastic dog, which had somehow joined the animals in the silo, with the family dog, Rosie, though they looked nothing alike.

But long before that, before our daughter could crawl or even scoot, she could sit up and focus on something out of reach — a red silo for instance. She looked around a lot, explored a bit, tried a variety of movements to get closer, cried out sometimes, and then figured out that she could reach it by tipping over. Cue the big smile and parent cheers for a typical baby doing exactly what she’s supposed to do.

The operative words here are watching, looking, and exploring. That’s how babies make sense of the world. And all this real world looking, watching, and exploring grows their brains and makes them smarter. If you want to learn lots more about the work — and it is work — that babies need to do, read chapter two, The Brilliant Baby Brain: No Apps or Upgrades Needed, of Catherine Steiner-Adair’s recently published book, The Big Disconnect. It’s the current featured book here on MediaTechParenting, and it was just selected as one of the top 10 non-fiction books in 2013 by the Wall Street Journal.

So I don’t think a baby carrier or any equipment with a tablet to look at, whenever the baby is just sitting around, is the best use of parents’ money. For one thing, babies, when they are awake, never just sit around. Furthermore, while there may be barns with animals on a screen — these images are not the real thing and they can’t be reached for, knocked over, and held. Oh, and tasted.

So I’m not at all surprised that the Campaign for a Commerical-Free Childhood stepped up and suggested that Fisher Price recall the iPad Appitivity seat. You may also want to check out my post describing the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation on screens.

I’m a bit of a geek, and I love my many digital devices — OK, even the screens — but not using them when I’m with babies and toddlers. I keep remembering that companies used to offer toys like the barn and silo — playthings that stimulated the imagination, provided years of active and pretend fun, and helped babies and toddlers figure out more about the context of their young lives.

Digital devices for babies? A big disconnect!

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