Busy parents creating another at-risk group of poor readers

by Jim Boyle


Katy Smith, the first early childhood educator to be named teacher of the year by Education Minnesota, says there’s a new at-risk group of readers.

It’s not those that have parents who don’t read well. It’s not those that don’t have printed words in their home. It’s those who have parents are too busy to read.

“So they outsource it to to something else — an iPad or an iPhone or something,” Smith told a group of early childhood caregivers and parents.

Smith said on most days (not all) it should be one of parents’ favorite times of the day.

“If it’s not,” she said. “Call me.

“I would give just about anything if I could get one more day with each of my girls when they fit (under my arm) fresh from a bath in one of their snuggly pair of jammies and they just kind of melt into me.”

Smith said busy parents are turning over this right of passage to an app on their phone or other electronic devices. She considers it a missed opportunity, one that will  have severe repercussions for many children.

“Long before your kids read and long before they understand the words coming out of your mouth are associated with that book, long before they figure out how to turn pages and long before they wire their eyes, you have to wire the pleasure center of reading.”

Studies have shown that three of every 10 Minnesotans are anxious readers. Smith advises not to let children scare them off of reading to them, because they are a fantastic audience.

“They can’t read at all,” she said. “It’s an opportunity on behalf of your kids to fall in love with books again. Start with an easy book.

“It’s OK to let a kid know that this is hard but its worth it,” she said.

Smith foresees the exact opposite happening, however. Back in Winona where she lives, there are plans to equip every kindergarten student with an iPad.

“They’re not buying books,” she said incredulously, expressing concern that this new direction may not have kids’ best interests behind it.

She says she will take time this summer to see how she feels about it, but from a gut reaction standpoint she has her doubts.

“An iPad has been in our lives since 2010 and we’re willing to give kids that without taking the time to  figure out if this is the best thing for them — whether its the best way to wire the brain for reading. We’re willing to let our kids be experiments.”

Smith’s concerns extend to the children much younger than 5, because of the competitive parent culture that had parents in her home district whose zeal for preparing their children for kindergarten led them to buy iPads for their 3-year-olds this past Christmas.

“Shouldn’t we take a step back?” she asked. “I want to know if an iPad destroys a brain and I am going to need some babies. Who will give me theirs?

“I don’t think anybody would sign up for that, but I wish I had an answer.”