Reading as ritual

  • Article by: DAVID WALSH
  • Updated: November 28, 2012 - 6:56 PM

Don't let an app stop parents from reading books to their children.

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Screen shot of the Goodnight Moon app, available for the iPad and iPhone.

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"Goodnight kittens, and goodnight mittens"

"Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere."

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These are but a few of the melodic and soothing verses that stir warm childhood memories for millions around the world. "Goodnight Moon" isn't a book. It's a ritual.

My three children, all now parents themselves, swear they remember listening to me or my wife read this children's classic before getting tucked in for the night. While these may not be literal memories, because their brains were too young, they are a testament to the emotional power the book has had for 65 years.

My four grandchildren all include "Goodnight Moon" as one of their "required" books at naptime. I've noticed that each snuggles a little closer as the red balloon hanging above the bed disappears from some pages only to reappear later.

Reading aloud is one of the most important -- and enjoyable -- parenting and grandparenting activities we can share with our children. Science tells us it's the first building block for literacy. Babies love the soothing sounds of a familiar voice reading. Even when they prefer "eating" their books, they are beginning to make the mental connection we want. They're associating reading with comfort, security and enjoyment. That link is a great foundation for raising readers. As a masterpiece like "Goodnight Moon" proves, it also creates emotional memories that last a lifetime.

That's the reason I was appalled to read that there is now an app that downloads the story onto a smartphone or tablet computer ("Say goodnight to boredom of 'Goodnight Moon,'" Nov. 27).

The purpose of the app is to rescue parents from the boredom of reading the book to their children. Boring? Let's remember that the book is not written for parents. It's for children, and there is a wealth of information to pique their interest. For example, there are more than 20 details that change from page to page. A 3-year-old can tell you that the socks disappear from the drying rack when the mittens are wished "goodnight," but they reappear later.

What this app, should anyone actually pay $4.95 for it, really would do is to rob children of an invaluable experience. Children need to hear a human voice and sit in a human lap. It would be sad indeed if some bored parents let their children "snuggle up" with an iPad as they drift off to sleep.

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David Walsh is a Minneapolis psychologist and author of the book "Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids."

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