The Battle Is On: E-Readers vs. Books

Dr. Corinne Masur

The New York Times reports that parents are increasingly using e-readers to read to their small children. While the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised that children under 2 use no screens at all, parents evidently feel that reading off a Kindle is different.

But is it?

Perhaps the best way to think about this is to try to think like a baby.

What does the baby or toddler see and hear when being read to from a book by his mother or father? He hears his parent’s voice, he looks up and sees his parent’s face and facial expression, he hears his parent ask him questions about the story. Parents reading a book to a child are more likely to engage in what has been called “dialogic reading” according to a researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The parent is more likely to talk to the child about the story and how it relates to the child’s life. During the reading process the toddler may feel the pages, he may even taste the pages. The toddler might try to hold the book himself or to turn a page. He interacts with his parent AND with the medium – but more importantly, he interacts with his own thoughts and feelings when urged by a parent to do so in relating the story to his own life and experiences.

With the e-reader the baby or the toddler sees the device and the moving pictures on it. Several studies show that the toddler spends more time looking at the e-reader than listening to the story. And how much time does he spend looking at his parent and interacting with that parent? Probably less time than he spends trying to press the various buttons – and then the interaction with the parent probably sounds like this: “don’t press that button yet, honey.”

Purveyors of computers and e-readers and developers of the software involved cite studies that indicated that children learn language faster with an interactive approach such as that offered by their technology. And while this is true, there is no technology that can substitute for a live instructor according to multiple studies.

So what is the baby’s verdict? Is it more interesting to watch a book/video or have a parent read to him? Which is more fun? More satisfying? Which results in remembering more words?

Why don’t you experiment with YOUR baby or toddler to see?

But our panel of imaginary babies definitely prefer their parent reading the book. On the other hand, for babies and toddlers and small children who do not have a parent available to read to them … well, then the e-reader is certainly more fun and more interesting than no story at all.

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