Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's good to talk ... listen

On Tuesday I heard a BBC programme in the afternoon (hands on the sewing machine, ears to the radio, that's multi-tasking?) which made me feel completely vindicated about not letting my son watch TV for the first two years of his life.

Well, not all TV, but children's TV. He was allowed to watch sport and news.

The psychologist (Arik Sigmund) on the programme confirmed my hunch that children's TV is bad for the developing baby/toddler brain.

According to scientific studies children who watched 'educational DVDs' were not any better in their comprehension and vocabulary when compared to those who watched The Simpsons and Oprah Winfrey. The only group with superior ability were "those who watched none of those but simply incidentally hear background conversation of their parents with others".

He concluded that listening which forces us to 'paint pictures in our mind' is better at fostering cognitive development. Well, there!

I remember feeding my baby with the radio tuned to BBC Radio 4. It often took an hour to nurse him at each feed. When he was a little older we 'invested' in CDs which told stories. There was even one which adapted Shakespeare themes.

Growing up in a rather poor family where we could not afford the TV -- my father justified it by saying it did us no good, and he was right -- our entertainment was of listening and reading.

There was Rediffusion ( a wired service, cheap to subscribe to) which gave us programmes in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, including BBC programmes. In the evenings we sat down to do homework, listened to drama on Rediffusion (usually a detective, a soppy soap, or a ghostly tale) and when that was done, Mum would play some of her Cantonese opera on tape (she had recorded this off the Rediffusion).

She sang along with the opera, and we learned to do much the same!

Only when I was sixteen when a grown-up cousin decided that he had had enough of his old black and white TV and passed it on to us was I able to watch myself on TV. Yes, I used to appear on TV as part of the school band at 'Central Judging', Youth Festival, or even in special recordings with the Singapore Schools Orchestra (where I played the trombone) but always needed to go to a neighbour's house to do that.

I don't think living without TV did me any harm. Indeed it forced me to 'paint pictures in my mind' and I was determined that my son would share the same privilege.

Coincidentally when I met him at school later that day son showed me his exam results and I had another pleasant surprise. He sat exams in English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Religious Studies and attained 90-something percent in all, with 100% in English Comprehension. Last night we worked out his average as 96% compared to a class average of 69%

Vindicated once again.

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