Laps Not Apps

November 5, 2015 by

Reading Catherine Saint Louis’s article about how many children under the age of five have used mobile devices, and about how often these children are left alone with such devices, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Studies are supposedly inconclusive about how much damage is done by excessive screen time at an early age, but it’s ludicrous to need a study to tell us the obvious: that, as one expert quoted in the article says, “Children need laps more than apps.” On the other hand it’s tragic, because all these children, and their parents, are missing the magic of childhood. Mark my words, in ten years there will be more studies and, surprise! we’ll find that kids pacified with electronic toys were less able to sit still in first grade, less able to hold a job, and probably more likely to end up on the street.

a man reading a bedtime story to two young boys.

The trouble is, by that time your child may be grown up and it will be too late to change your approach. I can already hear the response of the working single mother claiming that I haven’t a clue what it’s like to raise a child in her situation. I don’t claim to, although my husband and I did raise nine children; are still raising them, in fact, and all I know is that we found time for the things most important to us. I learned that from my mother. Our children are leaving the house one by one, but when my eleven-year-old begs me to sing a song at bedtime “like you used to” it makes me remember my mother. She was a busy woman. Mostly she didn’t have time to sit for long hours on the edge of my bed – I was the oldest of eight children, and my mother was widowed at thirty-six – but she sang as she tidied the house, and although I had to go to bed at the appointed time, she allowed me to leave the bedroom door open a crack. Lying there listening to her singing Guten Abend, Gute Nacht as she swept is a memory which will never fade with time or circumstance. She was a selfless woman who gave even when she was exhausted, and she showed me one of the most important things you can give your child: give of yourself.

And sing, sing, sing! There’s nothing like it for children. I won’t bore you with the studies that show what singing does to the synapses of the brain of a young child (there is plenty of research out there), but believe me, it’s good. “But I can’t sing” is the typical response, or, “I can’t remember words.” Never mind that, just hum, or sing “da, di, da, di, da, di, da, di dum.” Can’t carry a tune? Then recite nursery rhymes. Can’t remember any? Name farm animals, or zoo animals, and demonstrate the noises they make. With young children, nothing – not even the world’s most “effective” educational app – can replace human interaction. And if your efforts at calming a bouncy, overactive, or inattentive child seem futile at first, remember that driving a car takes practice, learning an instrument takes practice, and sitting still also takes practice.

The author singing with one of her daughters
The author singing with one of her daughters.

And in any case, no three-year-old sits still all the time – and he’s not meant to. But try holding one on your lap and reading Margaret Wise Brown’s Little Fur Family. Sure, he might jump off and run away before you get to the part about the red sun going down beyond the river, but next week he’ll come back for the same story and he might ask you to sing the little song at the end again: “Sleep, sleep, our little fur child, out of the windiness, out of the wild.” There’s a peace in those little verses that can’t come from anywhere but a human voice singing them.

I know raising a child is hard work, but it’s more than worth it. What you give to your child of yourself, rather than of technology, is what will endure. My mother died years ago, but every time I hear Brahms Lullaby, she’s right there beside me, sweeping the floor.

Veronica and her husband Tobias live at the Platte Clove Bruderhof.


About the author

Veronica B

Veronica Brinkmann

Veronica Brinkmann has lived in Germany, England, and the United States. At present, she and her husband Tobias live at...

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  • When I visit WoodCrest (many times over the last 5 years) one of my favorite things to do is to read to my friend's children (Rich and Roxanne Mommsen) I could be striking up a conversation with Rich or Roxanne and out of the blue I have a book in my hand and a request "can you read this to us Michael" the children enjoy it and it puts a smile on my face!

    Michael Gibbs
  • Will always love to read with children it is the loveliest feeling watching their anticipation of the story. Have an awful voice but still sing with my Granddaughters.

    Lydia lewis