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Monday, May 26, 2014

Way, Way Back When I Was a Kid

Photo credit: EvelynGiggles |

Today's younger generations have a world of books available at the push of a button. But have they been denied the nostalgia of a well-worn object? ♦ 

Most everyone my age has something in their possession that they've dragged along with them from place to place since they were kids . . . something that holds such sentimental value, and is so near and dear to the heart, that they'd never even think of getting rid of it. It’s safe to say that for a number of us, among those precious items are not a few choice books: Where the Wild Things Are, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, just about any Dr. Seuss book, and my personal favorite, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. These are just a few classic children’s books that might ring a bell and tug on a few heart strings, and may even still be on a bottom bookshelf somewhere, even if it's been a while since you actually opened it; even thinking about those worn covers brings a warm, safe feeling. But nothing kills these sentimental vibes faster than attempting to explain the wonderfulness of these books, and books just like them, to a kid growing up in this rising generation, ending with said child looking at you as if you’d just grown a second head out of your armpit.
       My generation—'90s babies—has suddenly begun to enter a nostalgic “When I was a kid” stage of life, and it’s sometimes shocking for us to realize what kids of this day and age haven’t experienced that we took for granted. The advancement of technology, especially, has taken a huge toll on the ways kids of this generation not only entertain themselves but learn, make friends, and generally experience the world. More and more I’m seeing small children—I mean even very small children—sporting iPads, smartphones, and e-book readers. After wondering how in the world children have the latest iPad, when I don’t even have an iPod, I think back to my elementary school days, when the most monumental day of the entire school year was when representatives from the local bookstore would set up shop in the library so kids could buy the latest books. I feel as though these days, and that excitement for books not just as a form, but as a physical object, are gone, or at least significantly changed from what it was in those pre-iPad ages. And, frankly, it’s sad to think about.
       While talking to a friend of mine recently, I asked her what she thought about the subject, and what she said really got me thinking.
       She said, “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a kid reading a book.”
      When was the last time I’d seen a kid reading a book? I mean, I haven’t been to a lot of elementary schools lately, but I am around kids a lot, working at a summer camp and having friends with big families full of children, and I honestly don’t know when I last saw a kid grab a good old Dr. Seuss classic, sit down with it, and read it. Even with younger kids who haven't learned to read yet, the way one interacts with a “book” has fundamentally changed; give them a book and they’ll likely start swiping the pages, mentally wondering why the screen isn’t changing. Don’t believe me? You obviously haven’t seen this video yet.
       Technology has altered the way we live our lives, not just in terms of how we get our entertainment but how we learn. Parents are using Apple Apps and Games to teach their children ABCs, basic math skills, even colors. Why? Is it more effective to have a child sit in front of a screen and play a game to learn colors (while the parent is likely in another room busy with something else) than to sit down with your child and read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?? Is an App for counting better than One Fish, Two Fish, Three, Four, Five Fish? I surely don’t have the answer to these questions, except to say this: it seems like parents are increasingly valuing these educational Apps over the similarly educational classic children’s books. Which were even more interactive than the iPad; children interacted with the text and their imaginations, and parents actually interacted with their children.
       Yes, it’s fun and exciting for children to seemingly have the world in their palms, and to have the ability to change that world with the swipe of a chubby little finger, but should we rob them of the potential sentiment and connection they would one day feel when reminiscing with friends about just how hungry that caterpillar was? While determining whether one or the other, print or electronic, is superior probably gets us nowhere, and while there is no doubt that incorporating both could potentially be the best option, we seem to have forgotten how awesome books are as totems of our childhoods, in addition to how important leisurely reading can be for children. If parents incorporated an equal amount of technology and esteemed titles such as those mentioned here, then we can all share in the greatness of reading and the wonder of technology, not to mention, we 90’s babies can reminisce without disappointment and have a ready excuse to re-read the classics with today’s generation.
  • About the Author
    Erica Mudd is a senior Creative Writing major at Miami University. Her specialty and passion lie in writing short stories, though she wishes to potentially pursue a career in journalism. She is also a heptathlete on Miami University's Women’s Track and Field team. Visit her online at ericamudd.weebly.com.

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