More on buggies

March 2, 2009

Not the kind that require whips this time; baby buggies in this case.

New York Times brought to my attention the work of psychologist M. Suzanne Zeedyk of the University of Dundee, Scotland. Her recent study looked at two different types of baby stroller, those that face backwards toward the mother and those that face forward toward the environment:

Older "pram" style

Older "pram" style

A more typical modern style

A more typical modern style

What difference does it make, right?

Which type of stroller a baby is in may influence their language development.

Dr. Zeedyk writes:

[W]e gave 20 mothers and infants aged 9 to 24 months a chance to try out both stroller types, and recorded their conversations. Mothers talked to their children twice as much during the 15-minute toward-facing journey, and they also laughed more. The babies laughed more, too.

Of course, infants do not spend all their time in strollers, but anecdotal evidence suggests that babies can easily spend a couple of hours a day in them. And research tells us that children’s vocabulary development is governed almost entirely by the daily conversations parents have with them. When a stroller pusher can’t easily see the things that attract a baby’s attention, valuable opportunities for interaction can be missed.

(Emphasis mine)

Important to note that they didn’t correlate any of this to actual language development, but they did measure differences in how adults pushing certain types of strollers interact with the babies. And there is considerably less joint attention and interaction when the stroller is designed such that the adult and baby cannot see one another’s faces.

Lessons learned: When we make design decisions about items for babies and children, we need to think about how the children are experiencing the use of these items. (Also, note to parents everywhere: Don’t feel guilty about your stroller choice. Your kid turned out just fine.)

Questions raised: Wheelchairs also face away from the pusher. If we have a child (or adult for that matter) who is at an early, presymbolic stage of language learning, is time spent in the wheelchair (which often lasts years after their peers are language users and amulatory) potential language learning time that is lost due to lack of joint attention?

What would a design look like that would facilitate joint attention with a caregiver that is also functional for transportation? (Time to break out my sketchbook.)

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5 Responses to “More on buggies”

  1. daysleeper[chickie] Says:

    I saw that too, on a parenting blog somewhere, and I think it’s not as much to worry about as the authors make it seem. It’s true that I don’t talk to my son as much when he’s in his stroller, which sits him facing out away from me since he’s a year old, but he has lots of talk-time/face-time with us otherwise. He’s out of his stroller much more often than he is in it. And I believe babies need other input besides just their parents’ voices, as important as those are. When he was a very wee tot, he faced me, but now he likes to look around and see everything around him. I do make an effort to talk to him and name things we see, but even when he *is* facing me, such as in a buggy, he’s turning and craning his neck to look behind him and around him. I personally would not run out because of this study and buy a stroller that sits him facing me.

  2. Adam Bowker Says:

    >”And I believe babies need other input besides just their parents’ voices”
    It almost sounds like you want to teach him something besides language. (That’s the problem with science breaking everything into little component bits. There must be educational value in seeing the world, but it isn’t in this study.)

    Besides, it’s just one study, and it didn’t draw correlation to actual language output. But there was a solid correlation of what language input parents were producing depending on the configuration of the stroller and past research HAS strongly linked input to language output.

    >”When he was a very wee tot, he faced me, but now he likes to look around and see everything around him. I do make an effort to talk to him and name things we see, but even when he *is* facing me, such as in a buggy, he’s turning and craning his neck to look behind him and around him.”

    Michael Tomasello and Jerome Bruner are two language learning experts whose assumptions about language development are assumed by this research. They would argue that the most important thing isn’t necessarily that the baby is looking at you, but that you can see what your baby is looking at, and he can check your gaze periodically to see what you might be talking about. This way you both can synchronize your attention. Joint Attention is an important social cue that leads to language development.

    >”I personally would not run out because of this study and buy a stroller that sits him facing me.”

    Nor would I want anyone to. I fear that at some point someone will use this to market strollers, preying on the guilt of parents to sell stuff. (“Buy my product or your kid will never get into Stanford!”)

  3. daysleeper[chickie] Says:

    It’s true that they will – they have already:

    http://www.orbitbaby.com/why/rotate.php

    (That’s where I heard about the study before I read your post on it.)

  4. G.Fraggle Says:

    I love that they are applying some great engineering to their products, but I don’t like that they are over-interpreting the findings of one preliminary study.


  5. baby strollers with high traction rollers should be much safer to use compared to those with plastic wheels

    Adam: Okay? But this post wasn’t really about safety. Are you a spambot?


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