Tag Archives: language development

Babies Need Words (Archived Pedcast)

Today, I think I have some very relevant information for all the families that have children that range from birth to three years old, that extremely important time in a child’s life when their brains are developing at the speed of light. Scientists are realizing more and more how critical this time is to a child’s development and ultimate success in life. We all want the very best for every child but how do we achieve this? What can parents do to give their little ones the best environment for outstanding cognitive ability?  Well, in a nutshell, that is the topic we are going to take on today. Let’s see what emerging information has to offer as far as advice. Continue reading

Read Aloud Handbook (Book Review Pedcast)

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Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook: Eighth Edition
Read Aloud Handbook

By, Jim Trelease

Penguin Books


Today I am going to bring you another in my book review series. The title of todays book, The Read Aloud Handbook: sounds really dull doesn’t it? But I am here to assure you that this book is anything by dull. It was written back in the 70’s and yet it is still survives and thrives, now in its 6th edition.  The content is as relevant today as it was the day it was written.


I actually started my journey to Jim Trelease’s Handbook by accident. His was not the original book that I set out to review. I was scanning around on Amazon for interesting titles, the way I usually find new books, and I found a book called Book Love by Melissa Taylor. It sounded interesting and I thought it might be helpful for parents sooo, I took the plunge and downloaded it for a book review.  Well, I would say plunge is an appropriate description.  The book is more like notes from an elementary school education class than a book.  I expected a convincing description about how important reading is to the intellectual development of our children, instead I got a skeleton outline of ideas to increase a child’s interest in reading along with lists of warning symptoms that a child may have a vision problem, ADHD, or Learning Disabilities.  I found it difficult to read because of its lack of description and insight.  I gave this book a 1/5 Doc Smo stars.  I don’t think it would be very useful for parents and I found it very dull to read.

Then I remembered a book that I had seen back when I first went into practice back in 1982.  In fact, I owned the book and it was buried in my wife’s extensive book collection.  Somewhere in my subliminal brain I remembered this book as important because not only did I remember that it existed, but I remembered the author’s name, a very unusual thing for me.  So once again, I hit Amazon for the latest edition and boy am I glad I did.  I can see why it’s in its 6th edition. A Classic: interesting, extremely informative, inspiring and dare I say, life changing.  Every parent needs to read this book.  Let me repeat that… every parent to be and parent needs to read this book.

In his handbook, Mr. Trelease, a journalist by trade, makes a incredibly strong argument that reading to your children even before birth and into their teens, is one of the truly great gifts you can give them…and yourself. The author spends the first half of the book giving his readers an understanding of how important reading is to developing language skills for children by sighting key research in child development and child literacy.  I found these studies fascinating to hear about and they seemed to reinforce what I have seen during my life… literate adults tend to raise literate children who, more often than not, succeed in life. He sites studies that starkly point out how children who are read to regularly hear richer and more diverse language during their childhood than those children who are not read to regularly.  Good language and reading skills sets the stage for academic and subsequent financial success in life.  It’s that simple.

In the second half of the book, Mr. Trelease lays out, age-by-age the mechanics of how to make books a vibrant part of your children’s lives.  He even goes so far as to include a list of his favorite titles to consider reading aloud to your children, age by age.

In my opinion, the Read Aloud handbook is a CLASSIC discussion of language, learning, and reading in your child’s life. I gladly give it my highest rating, 5 DocSmo stars on a scale of 1-5.  I encourage everyone listening to give it a read: I am certain you will be glad you did.

As always, I welcome your comments and insights on my blog, www.docsmo.com or post a review on iTunes or Facebook.

This is your pedcast host, Dr. Paul Smolen, who feels it would be a crime, for you not to read to your kids all the time.

Until next time.



Screen Time: The first 2 years (Pedcast)

Today’s podcast is full of practical, relevant information about the effect of screens on very young children. Listeners will find out what the “experts” in child development are learning about the effects of TV and other screens on children less than 2 years of age. Get in on the discussion and listen. You will be glad you did.


DocSmo here, your pedcast host. Thanks for joining me today for another installment of DocSmo.com bringing you relevant parenting information that will help parents from preschool to grad school.

Get ready for a lively discussion of a topic that, until recently, I knew very little about.

Today, I am going to bring you some new research with regards to screen time in children less than 2 years old.

I am going to talk about information that was presented at the October AAP meeting

Based on this research, things looking bad for educational videos but things are looking pretty good for traditional play.

You will see from today’s discussion that experts feel that screen time actually may interfere with parents talking to their children which has the effect of reducing a child’s language stimulation, creative play time, and problem solving abilities.

The conclusions of recent research really make sense;. Children learn best when they have the direct, one on one guidance by a caring adult, especially their parents

Lets explore this a little in today’s podcast.


I encourage you to read the specifics of the AAP statement which I have linked on my site in what I call  Smo notes.  It is really very interesting and I think it may change some of your basic, core concepts about parenting.  It did mine.

I will attempt to summarize the conclusions for you now:

Children, less that 2 years of age do not have good enough language ability to understand much of the content presented by a screen and therefore do not learn language as well from a screen as they do from an parent.

In fact, time they spend watching videos or TV under 2 years of age lessens their time talking to an adult or older child and actually SLOWS their language learning!

Background TV is also harmful as it distracts a parent from talking to their children.  A fact that is born out by recent research.

Infant and toddler programming may be entertaining, but should not be marketed as educational because there is no evidence that it is.

And finally, parents who allow TV in their child’s bedroom may be adversely affecting their child’s quality of sleep not to mention allowing too much screen time.


OK, so that’s what the experts say but let’s talk about the real world.  Easy access to TV and other screens is a fact of our daily lives.  We need to learn to live with them.

I don’t know about you but almost every time I read a new AAP set of recommendations, I begin to feel guilty about the was my wife and I treated our children.  I agree with the AAP that traditional play is better for very young children than watching a screen but I am skeptical about the background exposure argument.

Think about it, you could make the same arguments about radio, books, newspapers, or even having guests at your house. Lots of things interfere with a parent talking to their children.  Should we ban these as well? I think most of us would say not and I suspect that most pediatricians have not followed all the academy recommendations when their children were under 2 years of age.



I think we should think of these new recommendations as goals and not absolutes rules, for instance:

Parents should try and maximize language stimulation to their children. Talk to them and reinforce their language, especially in toddlers.  It is easy to forget that they are learning a new language.

Read to your children whenever you can.

Don’t use the TV as a babysitter.

Try not to have meals in front of a TV,  it is distracting to everyone and inhibits conversation.

Creative toys or real world objects that they can play with and manipulate are much better than educational videos, especially for children under 18 months.

Whenever possible, get down on the floor and play with your children. They learn from imitation and your presence makes exploration fun.

If possible, supervise your children’s TV viewing explaining, teaching, and reinforcing your values as they relate to the show.

And finally, here is an absolute in my mind: do not allow your children to have a TVs or video games in their bedrooms.  Their sleep quality may be harmed and with the screen in their control, enforcing limits on screen time becomes virtually impossible.


Children must be good learners and language is essential to that learning. For a moment, imagine you were dropped off in a country where you spoke none of the language and you needed to learn to communicate as fast as possible.  Which do you think would be the easiest and fastest way to learn the new language;  by being dropped off in a movie theater and watching many, many hours of film or by having a private tutor teach you the language by showing you things, one word at a time?

-The answer is obvious…. The tutor.

-I think this is a good analogy to what young children are up against making sense of their world and is in keeping with the new research.

I hope you found that discussion useful.

My goal is to always bring you practical and relevant information that you can USE.

If you found this information useful, explore the DocSmo library for other topics.

I post a pedcast weekly as well as other content such as short essays and my lunchtime interviews with my partners which I call the lunchroom lowdown.

To get the latest content right away, make sure to subscribe on itunes, like DocSmo on face book or follow me on twitter.

While your at it, tell a friend who might also enjoy learning new things about pediatrics and children.

This is Dr. Paul Smolen, hoping you are able to begin to wean, your young children from the screen


Until next time




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Lunchroom Lowdown: “Screens” and Young Children (Article)

Our most recent lunchroom discussion was a lively one. I asked the doctors and nurse practicioners to read and comment on the new Academy of Pediatrics recommendations regarding screen time in children younger than 2 years of age, and they came ready to comment. Before we got into the specifics of the AAP recommendations, we talked about our own childhoods with regard to TV and screens. I discovered that Dr. Riley grew up completely without TV. Her only exposure to TV was during visits to her grandmother’s home. The oldest doctors, Dr. Plonk and myself, were newborns around the time TV was invented. Can you believe it! These families had one black and white TV in the master bedroom, somewhere where children rarely ventured. All of their TV viewing was special occasion viewing such as a space launch, the death of a president, or a Disney special broadcast. The much younger nurse practicioners recall having fairly strict screen time limits. Anne Gessner remembers running through the house to shut off the TV as she heard her parents approach in the garage. Melissa Davis’s parents were both teachers and severely limited access to TV. None of the providers had a TV in our rooms, and everyone felt that we were better off without it. TV time would have meant less time playing outside, building forts, playing dress up and school, building models or reading. Exactly what the AAP says.

Next we discussed the specifics of the AAP statement which the group was in agreement with. Many of the providers, including myself, were interested and surprised to discover that new research says that not only is screen time NOT useful to children under 2 years of age, but that it is harmful to their language development. We were also interested in the notion that even background TV alters a child’s language development. Very interesting.

In a world full of screens, we realized that both parents and pediatricians have many challenges in front of them. Parents must limit screen time, both foreground and background types, especially for their very youngest children. They need to resist using a TV as a babysitter, and they need to be actively engaged in the viewing of TV for their older children. Getting down on the floor and having unstructured play is the best stimulation for young children. And let’s not forget reading to children of all ages. It was our opinion that reading to children is absolutely essential for good cognitive development. Doctors have the challenges of discussing the subject of limiting screen time in an otherwise busy agenda of a health supervision visit. We need to do a better job helping families come up with strategies to limit screen time and of reinforcing reading, outside activity, and unstructured play. Let’s get started, shall we?

For more on these subjects check out the following Pedcasts:

Episode 15: Playground, no parents allowed

Episode 1: Screen time, How much is too much?

Episode 23: Starting Young Children toward a Life of Literacy