Put down the Screen and Talk to Your Child by LeAnne Wood

POSTED BY on June 27, 2019

The infamous family road trip --once a place for traffic bingo, the alphabet game, counting cars of a particular color, and pointing out the scenery and wildlife has now become a place for dvd players, video games, and phones in hand. Unfortunately it’s not just the family vehicle, it’s the dinner table, and even the city park. Charlotte Forwood states “With digital technologies readily available and the advent of the "digital native", the amount of time children spend looking at screens has increased while other interactions have decreased.”

What is this doing to children’s oral and literacy skills? Studies are showing that our children who enter school without strong language skills are at risk for literacy difficulties.  One study showed that that a two-year-old's oral language skills can predict the same child's literacy skills at age 11. Another study suggested children need to hear 33 million words by the age of three. This research found that children in a language-rich environment were exposed to about 11 million words a year, while children from poor language environments were exposed to only 3 million – which lead to disadvantages before they even begin to learn to read and write.

Forwood continues, “Many other researchers have demonstrated clear links between oral language skills and general comprehension and literacy levels. Children need to hear others using words to express opinions, give explanations and provide insight into internal thinking. A good oral vocabulary is linked to high levels of reading comprehension and is necessary for development of high-level thinking skills such as analysing applying, evaluating and creating.”

It’s time to put down the screens and talk to your child!

  1. Talk to your babies and toddlers. Face-to-face, interaction is necessary for language development to occur. Children under the age of two have a difficult time transferring what they are learning from a screen into real life. Penelope Leach states, “Babies do not learn to speak by imitation, … what they need from adults is not easy speech but lots of two-way conversation.”
  2. Read to your babies and toddlers every day – multiple times a day. As you read, point to the pictures and name what you are seeing. Choose books about everyday experiences and feelings. Talk about what is happening in the pictures. Ask questions. What are they doing? What do you think is going to happen next? Let your toddler act out the story.
  3. Recite nursery rhymes and sing songs together. Encourage rhyming words. Researchers at the Center for Early Literacy Learning found that nursery rhyme experiences, awareness, and knowledge led to greater accomplishment in early phonological and print-related skills.
  4. Tell your babies and toddlers what you are doing. Are you heading to the store or grandma’s house? As you are bathing your baby point out the different parts of the body. As you feed your baby talk about the different foods you are eating. Encourage play that involves naming, describing, and communicating.

Studies are showing that parent’s screen time and that of their children is displacing quality face-to-face family interactions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Make talking to your child a priority. Use technology as a family by watching or playing together. Make your media encounters purposeful and try to limit it at times where social learning can best take place, like family dinners, in public places and during family routines … and maybe try to identify all the animals you see on your next family road trip.  

About LeAnn:

LeAnn Wood is married to Darren Wood. They are parents to Jacob, Logan- married to Erika, Nicole, Krystal, and Josh. She began her PTA career as a Kindergarten mom in 1998 and has served on a PTA board in various positions since 1999. For the past three years she has served as the Education Commissioner for Utah PTA. This position has given her the opportunity to serve on the Utah State Assessment and Accountability Policy Advisory Committee, the ESSA Practitioners Committee, the Third Grade Reading Team for the Promise Partnership Regional Council, and the School Fees Task Force. She is also in her second term of the Assessment Parent Review Committee. LeAnn is also an avid Scouter, having served as a member of the Boy Scouts of America National Cub Scout Committee, faculty member for Cub Scout week at the BSA National Philmont Training Center in Cimmaron, New Mexico and National Cub Day Camp School staff. She also loves playing board games with her family, planning cruises (and taking them), and taking bubble baths while reading historical fiction.


By LeAnne Wood



  1. “Too much screen time may harm children's oral skills, research suggests,” Charlotte Forwood, The Sydney Morning Herald, Published: November 15, 2014.
  2. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. Justice Evidence Base Consolidation: 2017, Primary Authors: Hannah Coles, Kay Gillett, Gwen Murray, Kim Turner, www.rcslt.org/-/media/Project/RCSLT/justice-evidence-base2017-1.pdf
  3. Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world, Paediatrics & Child Health, Volume 23, Issue 1, February 2018, Page 83, https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/pxx197 Published: 24 January 2018

“Your Baby and Child: from birth to age five” Penelope Leach New Version for Today, 2010. Knopf. Borzoi Books, https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=RUUHAQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=talk+to+your+baby&ots=fykSWTGYNc&sig=zr3xROngbBd5D-R3beQK0TDidq8#v=onepage&q=talk%20to%20your%20baby&f=false

Reading Rockets TIPS for parents of Toddlers. http://www.readingrockets.org/content/pdfs/tips/RR_tips_toddlers.pdf

“Parent Book Talk Flyer” https://www.abss.k12.nc.us/cms/lib/NC01001905/Centricity/Domain/36/Parent%20Book%20Talk%20flyer.pdf

“Children’s experiences with nursery rhymes promote early phonological and print-related skills development” Center for Early Literacy Learning CELLnotes 2013. Volume 3. Number 1. http://www.earlyliteracylearning.org/cellnotes/CELLnotes_v3n1.pdf


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