Paper or tablet? In a digital age, are traditional books or books on tablets the best way to help young children become readers?
The New York Times recently visited a second grade classroom in Ohio where children use e-books and their teacher talks of the need “to transform reading as we know it.” They are participating in a research project looking at ways to integrate e-books into classes that the Center for Literacy at the University of Akron is conducting.
“Books on iPads and some e-readers like the Nook Color or the Kindle Fire are fun. They include music, animation and other interactive elements that make reading a book feel like playing a video game,” the Times reports.
“But is it better than a book? It may take a generation to ever know for sure, and even 10 or 20 years from now it will be debated as the effects of television or video games are still discussed today. … Amid the excitement and enthusiasm, some people are suggesting a closer look, especially for younger children learning to read.”
Julia Parish-Morris, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania studies children’s interactions with digital books. “Right now, the state-of-the-art, in terms of research-based practice is: Read traditional books with your child,” she tells the Times. “We don’t have any evidence that any kind of electronic device is better than a parent.”
The fear is that the bells and whistles on devices like the iPad and Nook distract children and parents from the personal interaction that makes reading aloud to children such an important step on the path to literacy.
“Ms. Parish-Morris and educators are concerned that children can be distracted by the animations and game-like features within e-books. Maintaining a focus on the story is important in developing literacy skills, they said,” the Times reports.
“’The most important thing is sitting and talking with your children’ said Gabrielle Strouse, an adjunct assistant professor at Vanderbilt who has studied e-books. ‘Whether you’re reading a book, whether you’re reading an e-book, whether you’re watching a video. Co-interacting, co-viewing, is the best way for them to learn.’”
Meanwhile, an earlier Times story suggests many parents of young children seem to agree. While e-books comprise more than a quarter of sales in some adult categories, for books for children under 8, e-books account for only 5% of sales.