Friday, May 25, 2012

Baby Unplugged

Baby Unplugged is a wonderful blog that launched this year.

Author is Dr. John S. Hutton, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, author, and owner of the award-winning blue manatee children’s bookstore and decafĂ© and affiliate e-commerce site, blue manatee boxes.

Dr. John's main message is to keep kids screen-free until the age of 3.

A few words from Dr. John:

All parents want what’s best for their kids. A central message of Baby Unplugged is reassurance that, because of hardwired developmental stages, “old-school” – Blanket, Pets, Yard, Ball, Book – is exactly that. Childhood is not a degree-based program. Key drivers of learning are as analog as ever: interaction with caring, engaged grownups and ample opportunity to explore the world in a multi-sensorial, child-fueled, sense-of-wonder way.

Genuine creativity, curiosity, and the learning they foster flow from simple ingredients: a piece of paper, a cardboard box, the sky, books, time. The real risk of falling behind in the digital age is in traditional skills, those where technology and the distraction it brings, gets in the way.

Though traditional skills are perceived as a given – e.g. “all children love nature, and are curious and creative” – they are learned, and take time, focus, and practice. They are also best learned in early childhood, when growth and caregiver engagement are at their peak. Computer skills are important but will come later – this is unavoidable, and many of us prone to work at our computers at night and on weekends often wish it wasn’t.

Herein, opportunity: the first three years. Shorter than college, but far more potent. And with a guarantee: unplugged babies will be the leanest, strongest, most curious, creative, calm, confident, and self-motivated, with the longest attention spans, of their peers. They will run circles around them.

 Given this analog base, like the founders of Intel, Oracle, and Apple, they will also be the ones who will go on to assimilate what they’ve learned with the tools of the digital world. And importantly, they will be more likely to see technology in its proper context – as a tool.

Not as replacement for people, or face-to-face/pet interaction, or creating something from imagination.

If technology was required, Steve Jobs could never have grown up to found Apple.

But perhaps the most urgent motivation for keeping children screen-free until 3 is that it’s the only time they can be. 

Technology used to be something to look forward to – cartoons on Saturday, going to the arcade, watching a movie during prime time – but now it’s something we literally can not escape. We are always on, always available, with more choices than we ever thought possible, or even necessary.

Once kids go to school, technology begins to envelop their lives, taking on greater prominence until, around age 10, the only thing they do more than interact with/gaze at screens is sleep (though not always).

It’s not all bad, of course. Tech is here to stay, rightfully so. Much of it has improved our lives and productivity dramatically – email, cell phones, the Internet, and especially this blog – but one size does not fit all.

Young children don’t need a productivity boost, nor 800 friends on Facebook. They don’t need a Club Penguin virtual world avatar – they’re just getting a handle on their real world selves. They don’t need creativity boosters or virtual tokens rewarding them for poking shapes on a screen.

The rainforest is awesome but can surely wait – the park and backyard beckon. Babies don’t need to know how to read – not yours, not mine, not anyone’s. They do like mastering things like turning pages, though: look, a pincer grasp!

And so, we should give our children this gift: 3-years in the real world. This is the only time in their lives that they will experience it in a primary, non-virtual way.

Hear more of Dr. John's thoughts, read great book reviews and find more screen-free activities to do with your kids by visiting Baby Unplugged.

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