The Story’s The Thing. Also, The Story App.

September 9, 2011

Jasper, as I have noted previously in this space, loves the iPad. Like, loves loves it. He loves it with a passion that is rivaled only by his passion for trains. Which means, of course, that he usually brings the two together, in some cases for a little multimedia train play (set iPad on train table, queue Thomas tribute videos on YouTube, commence play), in others for a little interactive reading. Yes, reading. He’s only three, but he’s gotten pretty good at working the virtual storybook apps. The ones that feature trains, especially.

Kyle and I discuss Jasper’s ‘reading’ habits quite a bit, because we worry, sometimes, about whether Jasper spends too much time with the iPad, and then we worry about the worrying. Because, really, should we worry? He doesn’t watch television, like, at all, unless it’s Thomas on Netflix, and even then, he much prefers Thomas mash-ups and tribute videos on YouTube and Thomas games and Thomas stories. The iPad, in Jasper’s hands, is truly an interactive device: he lines up his trains next to it and works them alongside the story and adds to that story with his own exclamations and proclamations and variations on plot. He flips through the pages of a storybook app and really just gets into it.

But some might argue that that’s not really reading. It’s certainly not the kind of reading that I did as a small child. It’s not even the kind of reading that Emilia did at his age. Virtual stories – stories on tablets – sometimes involve sound, which is not really something that you find in traditional books, ordinarily. Virtual stories sometimes involve moving images, or clickable links that take you to another part of the story, or that produce pop-up images, which, again, are rare in hard-form books, unless you count actual pop-up books, which maybe you can.

Because here’s the thing: children’s books and children’s stories have always involved some sort of interactivity: whether you’re talking about pop-up books or nursery rhymes that are sung and danced or books like Pat the Bunny that allowed you to, you know, pat the bunny (I always thought that the bunny was named Pat. I didn’t fully grasp that ‘Pat’ was a verb, not a noun, and referred to the act of patting, until after Emilia was born and I read it aloud to her. This reflects badly on me, I know.) And virtual storytelling just takes this interactivity to a different level. Not a better one, necessarily, but a different one. An interesting one.

So we’ll continue to let him hog the iPad, and then, at some point, we’ll get him an e-reader, or whatever the kid version is of an e-reader, and see what happens. And we’ll continue to keep the bookshelf stocked with Eric Carle board books and my own worn childhood copies of The Velveteen Rabbit and Alice In Wonderland and the adventures of the Famous Five and the Bobbsey Twins and, of course, the Chronicles of Narnia and the works of Roald Dahl and I’ll pull these out for my children and we’ll read them and we’ll love them and if we end up also downloading the virtual versions of those stories, well, so be it.

It’s the story that matters, after all – not the medium.


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    Mrs.Captain September 13, 2011 at 7:09 am

    My 2.5 yr old loves the ipad as well. I purchased it, primarily, with her in mind. I saw her take to my sisters iphone. Apple makes their products so intuitive. At 2.5 my daughter recognizes words, can complete a puzzle of up to 12 pieces, increased her memory by playing memory games, and knows how to skype with her grandparents. All from the ipad. I don’t believe that she would know even close to half of those things with out it.
    Now just this week we took the ipad away as a potty training tool. At first I thought it was blowing up in my face, however yesterday was day 1 (day 7 without ipad) of training and she did really well, and was so excited to get to play her ipad again.
    I say let him play with the ipad, but use it to your advantage whenever possible! No matter what, as parents, we will screw them up, might as well let this be the first of many things we do “wrong” !!

    Lisa September 19, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    My objection to kids and ipads is more about expensive toys are for adults, not children. But hey, if you have the money, so be it.

    For my kid personally, I don’t ever want her to get bored with print books. She loooooooves books and I never want that to change. I’m worried that if she becomes accustomed to books that talk and sing and play, she might be bored with print. Of course, I have no idea if that would come to pass or not – no way to know really.

    When I got an iPad, I cleared my stuff off my ipod touch and now it just has stuff for my daughter, but it is most definitely not *her* ipod now. It’s mine and I let her watch a show on it now and then.

    But whatever floats your boat. I know (and am somewhat related to) people who spend close to $500 on birthday parties – renting cool place, goody bags for 20 kids, presents for their own kid – and I often think, “Why wouldn’t you just buy an iPad?” Seems a much better use of $. But again, whatever floats your boat.

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