Studies -- and personal experience -- demonstrate the transformative power of reading to children. But what happens if you're a parent or grandparent separated from your children or grandchildren by great distances -- can you still read to them? Coby Neuenschwander, founder and CEO of www.readeo.com, has found the solution. His website gives families a way to share story time over the Internet. Here, he tells us what he hopes Readeo will do for families.
Why is the act of reading to children so important?
One of the fascinating things about reading with a child is that it can actually change the architecture of the child's brain - making existing brain cell connections stronger and helping to stimulate the formation of new brain cells. This increased definition and complexity to a child's brain will largely stay in place throughout that child's life.
For families that are spread out geographically, where the father, mother or grandparent can't read to the child, what is lost?
For my own parents, who live 1500 miles away from my three-year-old son Oliver, what is lost is the connection that happens through this experience. My mother and grandmother were both schoolteachers, and reading is very important in my family. It's difficult for my parents to miss the opportunity to pass this tradition on to the next generation. For a father or mother that doesn't have that opportunity, they could miss out on key experiences that would solidify their relationships with their children in those important formative years—and that's something that can really never be replaced.
Where did you get the idea to create Readeo?
It's hard to live far away from my family, especially with a young son. My wife and I tried using video chat to connect Oliver with his grandparents - but he usually became distracted after just a few seconds. However, Oliver has a great attention span for reading together. The idea came to combine the reading experience with video chat to give my parents and Oliver a meaningful interaction. My parents now read with Oliver through Readeo a few times each week. These reading sessions typically last 20 to 25 minutes and include several books - my parents usually tire out before Oliver does.
You're focusing on reaching military families right now -- why?
April is the Month of the Military Child – created to recognize the sacrifices made by military families. We are offering free 6-month Readeo subscriptions to all military families in April. When I think of military families, I think of families with deployed soldiers, but many military families also live far away from grandparents and other family members. We hope Readeo can help keep these children connected to their nuclear and extended families.
For children growing up today, computers are much more a part of their lives than they were for us. Do you see this affecting how children relate to books? Is there a chance that books will become obsolete for these younger generations?
In my experience, young children relate to online books and physical books with equal acceptance and enjoyment. But children's books, particularly picture books, have tangible qualities that are difficult to duplicate on a computer. While I don't see digital children's books as a perfect substitute for physical children's books, I do see digital children's books creating an opportunity to share stories in new ways while helping children relate to technology that will continue to be a part of their lives as they grow.
Meanwhile, many older generations – like these children’s grandparents – are less technologically savvy and may not be comfortable on the computer. How do you see people bridging this gap?
While there are some older individuals who may never adopt the Internet, more and more are adopting it and are comfortable with it. This is especially true when you consider that the average age of new grandparent is now under 50. These people have been working with computers and the Internet in their jobs for almost 15 years - and they are also one of the fastest growing segments on Facebook. I think solutions like ours and the opportunity to connect with grandchildren can help even more of these people to get online - especially with a nudge from their children and grandchildren!
Coby Neuenschwander is the founder and CEO of www.readeo.com, a website that gives families a way to share story time over the Internet, even when they might not be together. Prior to Readeo, Coby worked with start up companies at Sandbox Industries and received his MBA at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago with his wife and three-year-old son.