As someone who leads a team developing educational television programs for babies and toddlers, I work closely with child development advisors. We put ourselves in the minds of parents — of which I am one myself — asking questions they may have about their own children. Is my baby or toddler learning at the right pace? How much do children vary from one to another? Does TV and other media help my child?
Fortunately, a healthy baby will develop very quickly on his or her own, despite the anxiety of the parents! Still, there are things that can be done to help stimulate the growth of their amazingly malleable brains. With the explosion in popularity of electronic devices such as iPads, smartphones, computers and video games in recent years, not to mention the presence of educational television, there is increased interest as to the potential benefits to babies from electronic stimulation.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT INTERACTIVE TV
Research has shown that interactive media has a pronounced effect on the ability of young children to learn. Alabama’s University of Montevallo oversaw five separate research studies on behalf of our company, BabyFirst, to validate the effectiveness of our products. One study consisted of children 3-1/2-years of age and younger, who were divided into two groups and received instruction in American Sign Language, to which none of the kids had any prior exposure. The first group was taught in a traditional teacher-classroom setting, while the second group received lessons through interactive television, which included subtitles prompting parents to perform specific tasks with their children as they watched. At the conclusion of the study, the interactive television group showed significantly greater proficiency in the skills they acquired.
It is significant that sign language was chosen for this study, as it has been demonstrated that babies develop the ability to sign much earlier than they can learn to talk. The reason is that speech is much more complex physically, requiring coordination of the vocal cords, tongue and lips.
Of course, sign language requires fine motor skills of its own and this is where interactive media can play an extremely important role. Babies and toddlers learn gross motor skills easily enough – standing up, walking and running. However, fine motor skills, which include the ability to make precise movements with the fingers and hands, are slower to develop. They are also tied directly to other critical mental functions, including learning to make decisions with their movements, as well as learning how to write.
HOW MOBILE DEVICES AFFECT FINE MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT
The use of interactive media, including specially designed apps for iPads and other handheld devices, can go a long way to helping to develop a youngster’s fine motor skills. Because a child’s brain develops the most quickly early in life, with synaptic connections growing from 2,500 at birth to over 15,000 by age three, this is an optimal time to encourage babies to hone their proficiency with precise actions and motions. Apps such as BabyFirst’s VocabuLarry ABC are particularly beneficial to toddlers because it calls upon them to connect an idea with a specific movement, while learning the alphabet at the same time.
Electronic gadgets are certainly a lot of fun, but today they’re playing a growing role in the development of our children. In a world increasingly dependent on technology, it’s important for parents to know the options available that can help get their kids off to a good start to life.
Interactive media is something that can be very beneficial to a child’s growth, but it does not replace the importance of human interaction. It’s important for parents to balance screen time with other bonding experiences such as playing outside, reading books together, engaging in imaginative play and tummy time.
Guest Writer – Sharon Rechter
About Sharon Rechter
Executive Vice President, Business Development and Marketing, BabyFirst
Sharon Rechter, along with business partner, Guy Oranim, conceptualized and co-founded BabyFirstTV. In her role as executive vice president, she leads the business development and marketing activities for the company – with a clear passion to bring quality, new educational programming to families of babies and toddlers.
Rechter has a broad background in television programming and recently served as the vice president and head of operations for The Israeli Network (the Israeli television channel in the U.S.). She was responsible for the general management of the network, and focused on areas including business development, advertising and subscriptions. Before entering the television broadcast industry, Rechter headed the strategic planning department at GNS Advertising in Israel where she was responsible for developing strategic plans for a variety of lifestyle brands.
Rechter received her B.A. in business administration from the Arison School of Business and her L.L.B in law from the Radziner School of Law, both at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.