The medium is the message

Little 16 month old came to meet petit fille yesterday . He arrived with dummy in mouth, and iPad under his arm. He has been taught a form of sign language ( no he is not hearing impaired nor are his parents) over verbal language and he is already a deft hand playing with his iPad

As a teacher i  am more than a little concerned. I feel that his verbal development is being restrained by the use of signing over speaking. Apparently it cuts downing frustration but as his parents are the only ones who understand him it is very limited. His social interaction with other children is going to be interrupted.

Then the iPad. It was a lovely story about farm yard animals but I noticed that he was just scanning it. His level of concentration is miniscule. This is a problem we are encountering now, students skim read and do not read to learn.

Another child born and raised in this country has been spoken to only in her parents native tongue, a middle European language because they want her to be bilingual. Bilingual is great but at three she should be using English as well. Social interaction with her peers is again restricted and she will be starting her education with English as her second language.

Maybe my generation is showing, but I am of the opinion that these parents while they are trying to do the best for their children are setting their child up for a less than successful start in our main stream world.

What do you think?

Update: just found this article on the subject too. Eric Carle and iPad babies.

Eric Carle and iPad babies


17 thoughts on “The medium is the message

  1. This is a subject close to our hearts as my son’s mainstream school tried this too. We insisted that it went hand in hand with any user articulating the word with the sign. He still uses some of them but mostly he uses a small spoken vocab which is close enough for anyone who knows him to understand him.
    We, like you, expressed a doubt about how it would affect his sociability.
    Long term it didn’t catch on despite the school using sign with all the kids and me being fluent because my Dad’s deaf.
    The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say.


    • The last few days I have been pondering how humanity managed to arrive where we are if our children were so bereft of technology that they just had to learn the 3Rs . Technology is great in its place, and when I see kids sitting in libraries and texting each other rather than speaking or reading then it really does concern me.


  2. I hate all of the new electronic “teach your child to read” gadgets. All the children are doing is mindlessly repeating what the gadgets says? That’s fine if you are trying to raise a parrot.


      • I agree with this. I remember being quite horrified when my son’s daycare centre decided to introduce tracing of letters as a getting ready for school activity. They even got the work sheets from the school down the road – the same school that a lot of the kids would be attending the following year and using these same worksheets. Smacked of unnecessary (and potentially damaging) hothousing to me.


  3. Boys tend to be slower at learning to talk, or so I’ve been told. My son really didn’t start forming full sentences until he was almost 2 years old, but then his pediatrician noticed that whenever he tried to talk, his sisters would finish his sentences for him. “Mom, Chris wants a cookie!” “Mom, Chris’s cup is empty and he wants more milk!”

    That said, I really dislike it when parents give very young children their smartphones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets. I’ve heard people say it gives these kids an advantage in learning how to use computers and other technology, but all it seems to do is teach them that a quiet moment is a boring moment. They seem, at least from what I’ve observed, to be more restless and easily distracted. I think you’re right in that more students seem not to understand the importance of focused reading and study. I had to deal with college students who never cracked open their textbooks or even bothered to read their class assignments. They wanted everything pre-digested for them in notes and would complain about instructors who didn’t read everything back to them in class.

    I have very mixed feelings about the bilingual aspect of speaking only the parents’ native language at home. This works if the child masters English in the classroom and is quick at picking up verbal cues: some children are good at it, like my younger daughter, who speaks four languages besides English. Unfortunately, I worked with a number of young adults who were raised in homes where English was seldom if ever spoken, and they were at a distinct disadvantage compared to their classmates whose English was fluent. Reading assignments were harder to get through, let alone writing papers. They spent more time laboring through written reports, and as a result fell behind in their classes. Not surprisingly, a number of them ended up dropping out of school.

    I also have my parents as examples of this sort of “bilingualism.” Both of them grew up with parents who never learned to speak English. My mother was a quick learner, so she had no problems picking up English in school. My father however labors through the newspaper for hours. I’ve long suspected his reading level is at the sixth grade, though he did finish high school. He’s always had a terrible time dealing with tasks that require good verbal skills—meeting with a lawyer or social worker, filling out forms, even haggling with a car salesman. My mother always took care of these things for him, but once her dementia set in, my father was as helpless as a child. When I asked him about various financial accounts and insurance issues, he would shrug. “Don’t ask me, your mother took care of those things!” I doubt if he’d be in good financial shape today if it wasn’t for my English-fluent mother.


    • My children were all early speakers and I think that the time we spent reading books and telling verbal stories helped that. I have seen a lot of children who delay their speech because they communicate through pointing and grunting and are not prompted to verbalise.

      I really enjoyed reading you very thoughtful reply. Thank you for the time and effort, as well as rich content that you shared.


    • You said – “but all it seems to do is teach them that a quiet moment is a boring moment.”

      I remember thinking 20 years ago that this was true of kids who were sat in front of a TV instead of actually playing with something. On a personal note – we didn’t have a TV until I was 5, and I’ve never had any problems keeping myself occupied … while friends of mine would sit around lamenting how bored they were. Of course, if I ever dared to tell my mother I was bored, she’d find something unpleasant (cleaning flower beds, pulling weeds, etc.) for me to do …


  4. One of my daughter’s friends speaks 3 languages. Her parents speak Spanish and since her now 5 yr old twins were born, she has spoken Spanish to them. They speak only English to their father, their teacher, and their friends but speak Spanish fluently with their mom and grandparents. They speak Spanish to each other at home, but if they are with their friends or in school, they use English with one another. It is wonderful to see.
    I am not sure where I stand on teaching babies to sign. It seems to me that most babies learn speech through the use of one word to ask for things anyway. And usually their babble improves with experience.
    My grandchildren all are exposed to technology and use it with ease. The iPad keeps the 3 year old busy while mom observes the 6 year old’s swim class. The 17 year old stays in touch with me, texting me almost every day and I know she would not call me that often! Yet they all love books. All 6 of them head for bed with a book each night. And the older ones will call and ask if it is possible to spend a Saturday afternoon at Barnes and Noble for book browsing with Gramma and Papa.
    I think it is possible to have the best of both worlds if parents and grandparents encourage the kids to do so.


  5. My cousin taught all her kids the baby sign language. All three of her kids are now in school, and doing wonderfully. Since only the parents knew the signs, the kids all learned really quickly to also speak with their peers.

    As far as the iPad, OH MAN. well, just think though how many adults have head buried in their phones. We really lack sociability these days. I do think the ipad is a nice babysitter, but its a terrible substitute for actual interaction. My nephews who adore their kindles, are actually still more interested in going for a walk with an adult when they can, rather than plugging in…but let them plug in and its funny- they want to play a game, BUT they have to narrate every move to you. so I guess its not that antisocial at all…


  6. Your link didn’t work – was it just me?
    I saw this thing the other day – no joke – and it’s a potty that has a special stand on the front that an Ipad fits into


  7. There have been a lot of studies into bilingualism in children and it is true that bilingual children often speak later. ON the other hand, it does with overall linguistic skills over the longer term. I did have big intentions of teaching my children Indonesian when they were little. They remained just intentions unfortunately.


  8. Oh, FD, how you’ve waded into a contentious issue! For my kids I’ve found that constantly talking with them and reading books reinforces the notion that speaking, reading, and writing are how we communicate, not by pecking at a little glowing glass screen. And though I’ve often worried about child 1 or 2 not walking early enough or forming complete sentences, I’ve yet to see a teenager who was crawling on all fours and babbling, though many have other behaviors that make me question their intelligence (driving and TEXTING?!).

    Regarding bilingualism there’s plenty of research that shows how learning more than one language opens up neural pathways that serve one for the rest of life. It’s true that while kids learning a second or third language take longer to begin communicating, their facility with language and thought makes it easier to learn new languages later in life. What I find interesting is how musicality and language skill often go hand in hand, which must have to do with training the ear to listen to and discriminate sounds.

    While there are as many opinions on these subjects as stars in the sky, it’s indisputable that ANY parental involvement in a child’s development is preferable to a slaw-jacked parent watching TV and ignoring the kids. With parenting, doing nothing seems to be far worse than doing the possibly-not-perfect thing.


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