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Yearly Archives: 2014

Digital Literacy for Preschoolers Conference: Theme 3 Speaker

DMP conference Theme 3 speaker


Digital Literacy for Preschoolers Conference: Theme 2 Speaker

DMP Conference Theme 2 Speaker

Digital Literacy for Preschoolers Conference: Theme 1 Speaker

DMP conference Theme 1 Speaker

Digital Literacy for Preschoolers: Conference Announcement

Announcing Conference for Friday, June 26 and Saturday June 27, 2015


Keynote Speakers

Julia Parish-Morris, University of Pennsylvania

Mary Courage, Memorial University

Kathleen Roskos, John Carroll University, and Jeremy Brueck, Akron University

Robert Savage, McGill University

For more information:

Write to Susan Rvachew (Conference Chair) at with Conference in the subject line. We will send you the call for papers and updates on the program as they are available.

Can young children learn language from the screen?

by Aparna Nadig, Associate Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University

As a researcher of social cognition I am very aware of the research showing that more and varied language input enhances a child’s language development and confers long-term linguistic and academic advantages. It is wonderful to see that this research is being translated into public programs and campaigns in the US that encourage parents to read, talk, and sing to their kids with the goal of decreasing academic disparities experienced by underprivileged groups. I am also a new mother, and I make a point of adding lots of language to interactions with my daughter. There are moments in the day, however, when I’m just too tapped out to summon up any more talking, singing or reading to my very active toddler. Digital media screens and their varied content of TV, videos, apps and games are increasingly ubiquitous in our daily lives and those of our children. Does language input from these media have similar benefits to my direct interaction for those times that I need a break? Being a researcher I decided to look at the data.

Some research observes babies in their home environment and measures their language learning over time. This research highlights the fact that “the more language input the better” rule does not always hold; the nature and source of the input matters. Weisleder & Fernald (2013) measured the amount of speech that was directed towards 19-month-olds over the course of their day; they found that amount of speech directed at the toddlers predicted their vocabulary size and their efficiency at processing familiar words 6 months later. On the other hand, the amount of overhead speech did not have the same effect – overheard speech included conversations between other members of the family or on the telephone.  Stretching the notion of language input to the extreme, background TV doesn’t cut it: for example, Barr et al. (2010) found that higher levels of exposure to adult-directed TV at age 4 was associated with lower rather than higher vocabulary, while exposure to child-directed TV had no effect.

Other research looks at the infant’s ability to learn new words in the laboratory. Krcmar, Grela & Lin (2007) and Krcmar (2010) directly compared infants’ ability to learn new words from live human teachers versus learning words from that same teacher presented on video. In the laboratory task the toddlers were asked to pick out one novel object from a group of five after they had been told the new object’s name five times. Generally, infants aged 13 through 20 months are more likely to learn the new word from a live human teacher. Toddlers aged 21 to 24 months of age were better equipped to learn from video demonstration as well as live teachers. Another comparison looked at whether infants and toddlers can learn from baby-targeted TV programming, specifically a Teletubbies clip using a voice-over from the same adult to teach the new word (Krcmar, Grela & Lin, 2007). Learning from the Teletubbies clip was the poorest of the three conditions, though older toddlers close to their second birthday and those who had larger vocabularies showed some indication of learning the word.

In future blogposts I will discuss why infants and young toddlers under the age of 20 months or so have difficulty learning language from video and explore characteristics of media that might be helpful for older toddler and child learning. For now however I conclude that it is best to continue to focus on live interactions with my own 13-month-old toddler. Luckily she’s got plenty of other people in her daily life to keep the language input coming when I need some down time!

No, we are not causing speech delay!

by Susan Rvachew, Ph.D., S-LP(C), Professor and Kathrin Rees, Doctoral Candidate, Child Phonology Lab, McGill University

I have seen and heard so many articles, television reports and radio broadcasts suggesting that “screen time” is causing speech delay, mental health problems and mass murder (seriously) in the past few months  that I couldn’t possibly link to them all. I really don’t want to do that anyway because I cannot promote that much nonsense or cause that much distress to any parent (see also my last blogpost, Are Baby Videos Bad for Babies?). What I will say is that there is no evidence that speech and language problems are rising in the population despite the suggestions in these fear-mongering reports that there has been a sharp rise in “speech problems” over the past few decades. For example, population-based studies spanning the 1940s (Irwin, United States), 1980’s (Beitchman and colleagues, Canada) and 2000’s (McLeod & Harrison, Australia) all found that about 11% of children at approximately school entry had speech/language problems. So, the idea that speech and language problems are increasing over time is just plain wrong and therefore we do not need to be concerned that parents are causing a rise in these problems by letting their children use digital tablets so much that they forget to talk to them!

Nonetheless, every new generation of parents must contend with new challenges when it comes to spending enough time with their children and providing appropriately enriching language interactions. When I was growing up, placing appropriate limits on tv time and content was a preoccupation for my parents just as parents today are struggling with the task of balancing the potential benefits of new technologies against any potential harms of over-use. Our research project is designed to observe parents and children while they negotiate this balance. We know that language is best learned from rich verbal interactions between adult and child while they are engaged in an activity that grabs the attention of both parent and child. When we watch parents read standard paper books to their 4-year-olds we know that we are observing an interaction that has evolved over many years from the first encounters in infancy when mum or dad might have spent most of the interaction trying to prevent baby from eating the book! At the age of 4 however the child is well adapted to the routine and perfectly reads the parent’s signals – therefore the child knows when to listen quietly, turn the page, answer a question, make a comment, lift the flap and so on. The interactions are beautifully coordinated and a pleasure to watch.

When we watch shared reading interactions with an iPad we observe a broader range of interactions. When the adult and child have had no prior experience with this technology and the child has good language skills, the parent and child usually negotiate the exchange quite quickly after an initial period of discoordination – for example, the child may be activating animations or turning the page out of sync with the parent’s reading. The child will quickly learn to ask when to activate the page turn or the parent will propose a verbal signal to let the child know when it is appropriate to “play” with the device. Sometimes, the child and parent do not come to an agreement about how to share the device however and it feels like we are watching a pitched battle for control of the ebook – this happens most often when the child has had a lot of experience with solitary iPad play and the parent is not used to using reading ebooks. Problems coordinating the reading exchange  may also happen when the child has delayed language skills – in this case the parent may find it harder to communicate a system for establishing a read-play rhythm. Most of the parent-child partners that we observe work this out however and have a lot of fun reading ebooks together – on average more time is spent on each page with digital books compared to paper books and this technology creates a lot of space for enjoyable conversation between parent and child.

We feel strongly that paper and electronic books both offer opportunities for language learning as long as the parent gets involved. For this reason we are delighted that we were able to collaborate with Tribal Nova to develop the iReadwith series of digital books that are specially designed to involve the parent in reading. Check them out here at the iReadwith website.