Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Opportunity Missed....An Opportunity Taken

Some memories stick with you.

My wife and I were traveling and stopped into a pizza restaurant for dinner. As we entered we saw a dad and his daughter, maybe 4 years old, sitting at opposite sides of a booth.  Because both were leaning over the table, their heads were pretty close together. They looked as though they might be whispering secrets or telling each other jokes.  Who knew?  But it was a dad and his daughter obviously sharing a special time together.  My wife turned to me and said, "This reminds me of you on one of your daddy-daughter nights."

It was only as we walked past them to our own table that we saw the full picture.  The dad and his daughter were both leaning over the table they shared......and each was intimately involved with a personal digital device.  The father was typing on his ipad and the daughter was watching a movie on her portable dvd player. 

I suppose it’s the missed opportunity that I remember.

Right now I am on an airplane sitting two rows behind another dad and his daughter - maybe 3 years old.  (Mom is across the aisle.)  There has been LOTS of talking, LOTS of laughing, plenty of books, and even a bit of active "hugging and crashing" play that was, the mom thought, too rough for an airplane. 

And I am smiling at an opportunity that is being taken full advantage of. 

I’m flying back from Colorado where I led a concert sponsored by the Denver Public Library.  They take the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read initiative very seriously and, I’m honored to say, arranged a concert with me as a developmental play experience for families. 

Every Child Ready to Read is research-based, but remains wonderfully simple and straightforward with its message.  Five simple practices are recommended that prepare a young child to succeed at reading and, of course, succeed in school.  For this type of success, the American Library Association recommends that parents, caregivers and young children:

Talk together.
Sing together.
Play together.
Read together.
Write together.

The idea behind my concert in Denver was to engage children, parents and grandparents in a joyful experience of singing, playing and even playfully reading together in the hopes that this kind of play will continue at home.  I had a wonderful time…….but I’m having just as much fun watching this dad and his daughter on the plane. 

It’s unlikely that the dad, sitting two rows ahead of me, is familiar with Every Child Ready to Read.  I’m sure he’s talking and reading and playing with his daughter because it’s a way to pass the time.  And when you have an opportunity to have your 3 year old on your lap giggling and cuddling, it’s a great way to pass the time.  That’s the beauty of the library initiative.  It’s not a set of chores to “add on” to our already busy lives.  It’s a set of practices that fit into a joyous life with a child. 

And, for the record, I doubt that the child in the restaurant is doomed to school failure.  It doesn’t work that way. 

But, sitting on this airplane, I can see that the dad in the restaurant missed two opportunities.  He missed the opportunity to do a few things that, research shows, promote development.  And he missed the opportunity to have as much fun as the dad ahead of me is having. 

For more information on Every Child Ready to Read, visit:

And here is some footage of children, parents and grandparents singing and playing together at a recent concert of mine:


  1. While play is a child's work, their work is a parent's play, a wonderful time to let the burdens and worries slip away for a while while laughing and discovering with your child. What a synergistic relationship play provides. When viewing those situations that frustrate and disappointment when it comes to screens and children and parents not interacting over them, I will endeavor to remember your term-"missed opportunities". Thanks for the post, Jim, and for the support of those of us employing Every Child Ready to Read in our libraries.

  2. Thanks for your comment! The "missed opportunities" are disappointing to witness, but I try to keep my eyes open for the great interactions as well. (It can be a habit to only see the negative and I try to make sure I don't "go down that road.") One thing that I LOVE about my work is the ability -on an almost daily basis- to catch glimpses of parents and children enjoying play and each other! But this guy on the concert necessary for him!

  3. Thank you for sharing your observations and reflections. I often see parents looking down at their phones/devices at the playground -- talk about missed opportunities ... It's a slippery slope/catch-22 this constant virtual "connectedness" leading to real life disconnect.

    1. I guess it's good that they restrict cell phone use on airplanes and charge for wifi. It creates more opportunities to interact than on the ground!

  4. This is a great post! As I neared the end of it, I thought "The mom & dad ahead of him on the plane would have been blessed to read this observation!" It is too bad it wasn't able to be "posted and printed" on the spot to hand to them! It is a great reminder to take opportunities to interact meaningfully.