We Are Both Right

Watch a little TV to encourage reading?

Reading books ranks right up at the top of my priorities along with fulfilling basic needs and good oral hygiene. My husband and I enjoy all media and so my children are exposed to practically every form of entertainment that is available and age appropriate. With so many entertainment options – apps, books, magazines, movies, music, newspapers, television, theater, video games and websites – I have to use every creative angle I can to make books stand out from the glitzy competition.

Public enemy number one in my household always seems to be the ever-present television. It’s not just cartoons or shows. It’s the Wii or our collection of 400 plus DVDs. When this topic arises while chatting with other moms, it is apparent that we all struggle to find the right balance for ourselves and our children. Some moms say no TV on school nights. Others have removed the offending device from their homes altogether. Still others place no restrictions at all.

In my house we have a few basic rules when it comes to either television or reading: No Wii after dinner, no movies on weeknights after 7 p.m., no TV until homework is completed, Thursday is reading night, Sunday is library day, and so on.

Surprisingly, I find that other forms of media, and in particular television, don’t necessarily compete with reading but rather inspire it. As a toddler, my son would gravitate towards a book with a cover that featured a character he was familiar with. You know, one of those many licensed characters from PBS or Disney movies? In marketing this is called brand extension: movies, toys, games, tv shows and books. Each cross promotes the other using one common theme. And, while it feels predatory to me at times (as in toys or non-educationally based tv shows), I have found it helpful when introducing reading to my son. My son will watch a movie, play the video game and then…READ the book!

Rather than one form of media cannibalizing the other, I find that one actually reinforces the other. If a TV show or website helps my son get past his hesitation to read a book, I’m all for it. After all, he already knows and loves the characters. He may even know the plot. He seems to take comfort in the familiar content and this gives him the motivation to tackle the words he doesn’t know.

So, while striking a healthy balance between all the different media for myself and the entire family is a daily struggle. I tend to think of it like a diet: moderation and variation is key to a healthy lifestyle. In this case a movie, some game time and a bit of reading does the trick.

tracey

iPads, Kindles and Nooks … Oh, my!

My pre-schooler has a Nook Color. At first glance, this might seem indulgent, but the motivation to purchase a digital device was purely an act of self-preservation.

My kids are forever intrigued by my iPad. They beg to play games. They whine to watch movies. They just can’t keep their hands off it. Upon picking up my iPad after kiddie use, I discover the thing that grosses me out about kids — even my own — slime. A six-week pinkeye bout later and I was determined to invest in a digital reader for each child.

For me, it came down to the choice between three options: iPad, Kindle or Nook Color. I wanted my kids to read. They wanted to play games. Could I find a device that could meet both of these requirements?

The iPad was the first to be eliminated. I deemed it too expensive and too heavy for little hands prone to dropping things. Yes, there are many cool book apps. However, my goal was to was to get them to read first and then shoot birds across the screen later. Book apps aside, there’s just too many other media offerings on the iPad to distract my children from reading.

Hands down, if it were all about reading books, Kindle would be my first choice. It has the lowest price point and ease of purchase using the Amazon store. At the time I was purchasing, the e-ink black and white device was the only option available. Not such a good option for someone who planned to purchase children’s picture books. And, let’s face it, my kids weren’t attracted to my iPad for the text. They were anticipating vibrancy and interactivity. The Kindle just wasn’t going to cut it.

This left me and my family with one alternative choice, the Nook Color. This device has a good selection of children’s book and offers select, popular apps. My kids can read, play games and watch movies. The Nook has one thing that makes it stand out from the competition, it is the only device that has an association with a physical bookstore. B&N gives full access to select titles and other promotional incentives to bring Nook buyers back into the store. Imagine my son’s joy when B&N gave a free Mighty Eagle to all those who played Angry Birds while in the store.

It has been several months since this major purchase and my children enjoy their Nooks daily. Turns out that there are many children’s books available and even some that will read to my daughter. Oh, and that in-store service came in handy. My husband and I thought the touch screen wasn’t being responsive, so we brought it to the local B&N. Imagine our embarrassment when the associate pulled out the screen cleaner!

Note: I made the decision to buy a Nook Color just as the Kindle Fire launched. The Fire gets less than stellar reviews for user interface, but it has a color screen and is a tablet. If I had to make the purchase again today, I would still purchase the Nook for my children. Why? The integration between the physical and digital, both store and content is important to me and I want my children to make the connection and respect both options.

tracey

Encylopedia Brown: More than a Mystery?

Cuddling up with my seven-year old, lights out and flashlight in hand, we readied ourselves to dive into his first-ever detective mystery novel. He was excited about the flashlight. I was excited about passing on the joy of reading books filled with adventure and intrigue.

The book I selected to deliver on such high expectations was Encyclopedia Brown. Earlier in the day, my husband and I had picked this book while browsing the shelves at the local B&N. He spotted the Encyclopedia Brown series and recalled liking them as a child. I remembered Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fondly. I had never heard of this series or character.

This being my first exposure to Encyclopedia Brown, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Luckily, it became apparent after the initial well-constructed and neatly wrapped-up chapter that facts are presented, clues are given, and the reader is left to use their own deductive reasoning skills to sort out the mystery. Helpful answers are provided at the end of the chapter to help the novice detective along.

Beginning with chapter 2, my son and I were ready to do some sleuthing of our own. We could solve these mysteries with a bit of research.  Who won the battle of Waterloo?  No problem.  Then, I glanced over at my son and realized he hadn’t a clue as to how to find the answers.

An image of my childhood collection of Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the top shelf of my closet, quietly awaiting the next social studies report sprung immediately to mind.  What to do? We have no such printed reference materials in our household today. We have the internet. We have…WIKIPEDIA!

The rest of our reading time was spent discussing technology and its impact on information. I explained to my son that today information is stored, shared and updated constantly on the world wide web. It is no longer the static, outdated facts on a printed page that I had as a child.

Coincidentally, I recently read an announcement that Encyclopedia Britannica will stop printing books. Turns out that the 2010, 32-volume set will be the last of its kind as the company focuses on digital.  They are betting that consumers will see the value and pay for vetted, expert information vs. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

So as new technology forces the old to adapt and compete, will Encyclopedia Brown be  renamed Wikipedia Brown? Which will resonate more with my son? What an unexpected twist to our evening. Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown!

tracey