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In an op-ed piece in the NY Times, M. Suzanne Zeedyk says there may be something to what British teachers have observed.
They have seen a decline in the linguistic abilities of many children — and have wondered if some of it may be the result of front-facing strollers.
Britain’s National Literacy Council commissioned Zeedyk’s research team to look into the question, which had not previously been researched.
Strollers and buggies did not originally face forward: all through the 19th century they were designed for the infant to face the person pushing them.
But in the 1960s, writes Zeedyk, the engineering constraints of collapsible strollers caused them to face forward.
Zeedyk’s research team observed 2700 families with young children walking along main streets in Britain’s cities and villages. Forward-facing strollers were the most common, they found, but the babies in them were the least likely to be engaging in any social interaction.
Caregivers were observed speaking to the infants in only 11 percent of these cases. But for the face-to-face strollers, the adult was talking to the child in 25 percent of the observations.
Just to be thorough, Zeedyk wondered if people who buy backward facing strollers just talk more than those who buy forward-facing strollers.
Probably not. In a follow-up study, 20 mothers and infants were given a chance to try both stroller types, and their conversations were recorded.
The mothers talked to their children twice as much during the 15-minute forward-facing journe; and they also laughed more. And the babies laughed more too.
Even though infants don’t spend all their time in strollers, anecdotal evidence suggests that babies can easily spend a couple of hours a day in them.
And research has shown that children’s vocabulary development is governed almost entirely by the daily conversations that they have with their parents.
Valuable opportunities for interaction can be missed when the stroller pusher can’t see the things that are attracting the baby’s attention, says Zeedyk.
It’s important to remember that this study is only preliminary. It was intended to raise questions, rather than to give answers. But it is now clear that further research on forward-facing strollers is worth doing.
These findings do press us to think again about how babies experience those stroller rides, as well as other forms of transportation like car seats, shopping carts and slings.
Don’t be worried, says Zeedyk, but be curious about the elements of the environment that attact your children’s interest.
And talk to your baby whenever you have a chance — whether your stroller faces forward or back.
Zeedyk suggests that stroller manufacturers should keep in mind how much their products are likely to shape children’s development.
sole source: M. Suzanne Zeedyk’s article in the NY Times on 3/2/09. Zeedyk is a senior lecturere in developmental psychology at the University of Dundee. www.nytimes.com
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