But even if we could afford to trick our vehicles out with televisions – and I suppose we actually could afford it if it were that important to us – we wouldn’t. You know why? Because TV is not really for toddlers.
Is there TV programming like this for children? Yes. Sesame Street was like this for me; my spouse credits Pinwheel as her go-to childhood TV experience. In some ways, TV may seem perfect for a toddler because toddlers are so engaged by images. Our little girl can’t speak English yet, much less read it. But yet she loves – loves, loves LOVES – picture books.
Recently, she has become enthralled by the moon. Anytime she sees a moon in a book, she points at it and says, “Moon.” Imagine, now, how much she loves the book Goodnight, Moon. She points at every moon in that book, including the moon in the picture on the mantle of a cow jumping over the moon. And this week, after the time change, she has been delighted to find that the moon – the real moon, not a book moon – greets her every morning when we get to daycare.
She likes the animals she sees in books, and it delights her even more when she sees them in real life. A few weeks ago, we had our first encounter with a real ladybug. She was engrossed in this small red creature that she sees in several of her picture books, and watching the imaginative connections taking place behind her eyes as the pictures of her books become reality in front of her eyes is a pure joy.
At this age, it seems, less is more. In a few years, I imagine there will be some TV shows that will really help stretch her creative and imaginative development. But for now, while still teetering on the pre-verbal stage, the less words and exposition, the better. She can stare at these pictures and images and let her imagination fill in the gaps. She recognizes things she knows – the moon, ladybugs, puppies and kitties, teddy bears – and delights in each encounter. If she wants to spend all her time on one page, she will. If she wants to read the book backwards, she will. TV doesn’t really allow this freedom.
That old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words? True, of course. But at my little girl’s age, those words are her words and, often, hers alone. And as her own words and experiences start matching up with the environment around her, her imagination grows and expands and lights up her eyes at the joy of encountering the world in a new way. Good TV can still do that to me as an adult. But I can’t tell you how much I appreciate having a little person in my life reminding me of the thrill of discovering new life in a single picture and imagining how it just might change my life.