Tuesday, 11 June 2013
News that Egmont children's books publisher has launched a digital form of the famous Winnie the Pooh, in the form of an iPad and iPhone app, has ruffled a few feathers.
Not so much because it introduces the much-loved character and stories to a new, digital-savvy generation, but because of the words of the app designer Kristian Knak who said, "The attention span and patience of today's children is obviously different than in 1926. If children are not engaged in the storytelling almost instantly, they'll just move on to the next app. On one hand, we really want to preserve the integrity of the original work by Milne and Shepard, but on the other hand, when you want to reach out to children you need to adapt the storytelling, you need to enhance it."
OK, so maybe the way in which we access and utilise information has changed, and we seem to be more able to shift between things with speed and greater ease - in itself a form of concentration - but has the ability to pay attention for long enough to enjoy the original Pooh bear stories really become so diminished that we can no longer sit peaceably, immersed in a book?
I think not. I see children concentrate all the time, from a baby playing with its toes to the toddler with a balloon, or a four year old absorbed in building Duplo. And I also see children who are exposed to so many distractions at one time, their ability to concentrate becomes eroded, and multitasking becomes the norm. But I don't think this means they have lost the ability to concentrate, just the opportunity to do so. Remove distractions and, perhaps with some gentle prompting, sit back and watch the engagement and motivation that follows.
To be fair, Egmont also publish the full book version of Winnie the Pooh, so they are - cannily enough - extending their market which may, in turn, lead young readers back to the original books. Books that can be read aloud, read alone, returned to time and time again, shared and treasured - and in that, I don't think children have changed since 1926.
But rest assured, children are smarter than you think - give them a book and the time and opportunity to read it and they probably will!