Technology has its place, but so do other childhood activities.
In the midst of a crowded airport terminal filled with hundreds of frustrated travelers on hold as delayed flights were announced, two sisters sat on the floor playing with their iPads. The little sister, probably 3 years old, had bright orange headphones. Those belonging to the other girl, who looked about 4.5, were cherry red. The children were mesmerized, completely ignoring everything and everyone around them and immersed in their own world.
Not too far from the sisters, two other girls who appeared to be siblings were sitting on the floor. They seemed almost the same ages as the sisters. What caught my attention was their delightful chanting as they performed often-complicated rhythmic hand-clapping games.
Laughing and talking, they stopped to watch a passenger lead a helper dog through the crowd. The woman let them pet the dog, who she said was named Sugar. A few people chatted with the little girls. A boy, about 6 years old, joined in. He showed them a magic trick he had learned in school. As children often do, the three bonded, forming a little friendship that was cemented by ice cream cones. When finally our planes were announced, the three children hugged each other and waved. The first two sisters, prompted by their parents, reluctantly closed their iPads and left for the gate.
Yes, the sisters with the iPads were very well behaved. They hardly moved or spoke, did not ask for ice cream and did not see or ask to pet Sugar. Their experience in that airport terminal was so different from the three children close by who were laughing, talking, doing magic tricks and eating ice cream.
The story of “The Nightingale” flew into my mind. You may remember the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the great emperor who had a beautiful nightingale who sang in a pure, sweet voice. The emperor loved the nightingale until two swindlers came with a shiny, jeweled mechanical bird. The emperor shooed away his nightingale and fell in love with this new bird. After a while, the emperor became very sick. Everyone tried to cure him. The mechanical bird had broken.
His country was already grieving when, suddenly, a beautiful, pure, sweet song was heard. The nightingale had returned, stood on the emperor's windowsill and sang to him. Miraculously, the emperor was cured—to the great joy of his people. The mechanical bird had failed at helping him become healthy again. Only the song of the nightingale could inspire such a marvelous event.
We are living in a time of amazing technological achievements. The array of electronic devices is truly dazzling. We see how easily we can become immersed, even obsessed, with them and how easily we lose time spent on play, song, walks, talks, friendships and taking time to pet dogs like Sugar.
Perhaps next time, the two little sisters could play with their amazing toys for a while, then close them and join the three other children for chanting, hand clapping, magic tricks and ice cream.
I think that can happen.
“Mamaloshen” is the Yiddish term for “the mother tongue” and we have adapted it here to represent the wisdom of Columbus arts educator, author and all-around inspiration Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, who is on a mission to help parents raise happy, healthy, creative children.