Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Curling up with a good Kindersay

My favorite baby gift is books. And I have my list of favorites that I go back to again and again. There are no surprises I'm sure: Make Way for Ducklings. Good Night, Moon. Runaway Bunny. Goodnight, Gorilla. The Going to Bed Book. Miss Spider's Tea Party. The I Spy books. Sometimes I throw in poetry. Sometimes - didactic noodge that I am - I throw in those picture books that help kids learn numbers, alphabet, colors, animals, feelings, whatever.

I love the idea of new parents reading to their new babies, and the babies growing into little readers with favorites of their own.

So I was a little wigged out when my friend John sent me a link to a post on Tech Crunch on an outfit called Kindersay.

Kindersay's is a place where "kids can watch, listen and learn with Kindersay word shows." It provides different groupings (numbers, body parts, animals, tools), and shows pictures of different objects within the groupings. When you click on a picture, a screen pops up and - after what seems like an endless wait to me, so I can only imagine what it will see like for the ADD computer-generated generation - a woman pronounces the word.

First, let me get through my little nit-lette. Kindersay is Canadian, and there's at least one Canadian-ism that won't fly in the US: baby cot for crib. (Yes, and baby's got a wet nappy, too.) There are also some categorical weirdisms. What's ping pong doing in "outdoors"? And then there's my favorite oddity: the illustration for the word "lantern" is a "jack-o-lantern."

Quibbling nits aside, I find the idea of swapping out book learnin' for pre-schoolers with plunking a kid in front of the computer a bit alarming.

Sure, the illustration shows a nice mom playing Kindersay with her kids. But why wouldn't she just read to them? Surely reading to your child is more intimate, more tactile, more connected, more snuggly, than sitting with said child in front of the twentieth century boob-tube. And surely, most parents are capable of providing their children with this sort of information on their own, without having to rely on the Kindersay narrator.

Along with pre-schoolers, Kindersay is positioned for English as a Second Language learners - and that makes sense. (Sort of. Where the poor ESL kids are going to have access to a computer and the Internet might be a question.) This wordplay service is in itself free.

Kindersay's founders are educators, and no doubt earnest when they write:

We believe among the most effective ways of learning is for the child to participate with the parent in enjoyable activities while receiving positive reinforcement. Kindersay is designed around this key principal.

Yes, indeed.

Isn't that what would happen if said child was sitting in the lap of a parent, grandparent, sib, aunt, uncle, nice lady next door? And, if something's on the computer, isn't it just a tad more likely that a parent, grandparent, et al., will park the kid in front of it - electronic babysitter and all that.

Just what is the point of putting "A is for Apple" online, when it should be in a board book that a baby can slap, teethe on, and drool over.

Having a rich vocabulary is important, but kids should be getting it from conversation, from books, or - even - from watching the TeleTubbies.

No, other than for ESL (maybe), I really don't like the idea of this one.

In another part of Kindersay, you can upload family pictures so that your child can see friends, family, and their little old self on line. There's a charge for this service, but why would someone pay however trivial a fee when they put the pictures onto their computers themselves. For free! (Low tech option: If Grandma's in Omaha and you're in Boca Raton, you can just point to an actual in-a-frame picture of Grandma and say "That's Grandma." And, say, you can even freelance and say things like "Grandma is smiling. That's because she's happy. We're going to see Grandma soon. That will make Grandma even happier." Look, Ma, vocabulary!)

As for me, I'll take Runaway Bunny any old day.

I'd rather think of those kiddies pulling out a book and pulling up a lap ("Read me?"), than to think of them pointing to the glowing screen, seeing a picture of a jack-o-lantern, and having the video narrator slowly say the word "lantern."


Anonymous said...

You are clearly an idiot that knows and cares of nothing to do with children. If there is a program like Kindersay out there to help children why would you slander it? I have an autistic daughter that loved Kindersay. She practiced pronunciation, and even learned new words. It was a perfect way for her to learn new vocabulary. Thanks buddy! Now it is gone.

Maureen Rogers said...

If Kindersay has failed as a business, it's because they weren't able to come up with a model that was profitable for them. Perhaps if they had positioned their services for children who could be helped by alternative methods of communication, they would have developed a niche market for themselves. By going after the broader market, they appeared to be offering an alternative to something (old-fashioned book reading) that most people did not find attractive or necessary.

If their method is effective for autistic children, it certainly seems that it would be a useful avenue to see if associations that support autistic children and their families could develop a service to Kindersay on a not-for-profit basis.

Anonymous said...

Kindersay has new owners and is back online. Enjoy!