Allison's Book Bag

E-books for Young Children?

Posted on: November 7, 2012

A note from Andy, your guest reviewer for the next month:

I will be supporting Allison in two ways throughout November as she participates in National Novel Writing Month. First, I will do my best to stay out of her way. Second, I am taking on her blog duties by writing four or five guest reviews and possibly some other posts.

In my review of The Monster at the End of this Book, I made a remark about young children and e-books. For my mid-week post, I’d like to turn that comment into a discussion: should young children (pre-readers and beginning readers) use e-books?

This post will be short on facts and long on opinion. There are articles and studies out there about kids and electronics. There’s a study that shows that Baby Einstein videos actually interfere with language development. And there have been oodles of studies that show that TV is bad for kids. However, studies of the effects of e-books on beginning readers are scarce; in two or three minutes of “thorough” Googling, I found precisely zero.

I did find articles saying that even avid e-readers prefer real books for their young children, although the primary reason for this may be that few people want their expensive Nook or Kindle to short out due to excessive baby drool, or to be kicked down the stairs by a four-year-old on a sugar high. In other words, I may be imagining a problem that doesn’t exist. On the other hand: publishers already offer many e-books for beginning readers, there’s bound to be kid-friendlier e-readers on the horizon, and people are embracing electronic gadgets more and more each day.

Young child with book.

Young child with book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any case, for what it’s worth, here are my completely-unsupported-by-any-existing-research common-sense reasons why real books are better for pre-readers and beginning readers than e-books.

When parents read to their children:

  1. The child can ask questions
  2. The parent can enhance and change the story
  3. Reading time is bonding time

When parents are not available to read to their children, and these children only have access to real books and not e-books:

  1. Children are motivated to learn how to read on their own
  2. Children learn how to do without things, which motivates them to be resourceful, imaginative, and patient

Another thing I don’t like about e-books for young children is that they often have added interactivity. The child can click a part of the picture and be rewarded with a sound and/or an animation. They can also click words and hear what they sound like. My problem with this “interactivity” is:

  1. It distracts from any actual reading
  2. The e-book is entertaining the child, whereas when a child reads a book they are entertaining themselves
  3. The interactivity is the same every time

Look back at my list of what’s good about parents reading to their children. There’s a word that can be used to describe my first two points: interactivity. And unlimited interactivity at that. There’s no limit to the questions a child can ask, and there’s no limit to a parent’s ability to change a story (which can be as subtle as differences in tone and inflection, or as extreme as adding dialog and action). Whereas “interactive” e-books have very limited interactivity, and I suspect children will quickly become bored with them.

Many parents already use electronic devices to babysit their children. TVs, electronic toys, video games, now e-books. Many new cars have built-in “entertainment systems” so kids never have to go even a few minutes without some form of electronic stimulation. Does anyone really think all these things are a benefit to children? Kids today (imagine that I’m saying this in my grumpy old man voice) are addicted to stimulation. They can’t stand to NOT be doing something. But the things they feel the “need” to be doing are not the kinds of things that enrich. They are the kinds of things that turn them into zombies that stare at screens and press buttons.

We live in an electronic world. Your child will not be able to avoid electronic devices, nor should they. But there will be plenty of time for them to learn how to interact with touch screens and type with their thumbs. Childhood is a time for learning about the world, and there’s much more to the world than electronic devices.


5 Responses to "E-books for Young Children?"

I also agree wholeheartedly with your entire post, Andy. It may be short on facts, but it’s full of common sense.

I just found a couple things about the benefits of parents reading to their children — from real books, not e-readers. One report noted that: “Durkin (1966) found that children who read early are more likely to have parents who read to them, have parents who talk about letters and sounds with them, and have access to numerous and varied reading materials.” That second item — “have parents who talk about letters and sounds with them” — is especially important, I think. I think that’s the problem with e-readers — yes, they can read aloud to children, and highlight the words as they are read, and they can say whatever word the child touches, but I don’t consider that to be real interaction. Interaction is a back and forth exchange. My television is “interactive” in that if I press a button on the remote, the channel changes. But my television cannot tell if I’m bored and propose alternatives. It can’t ask me questions about a show. Reactive is not the same as interactive. E-readers are reactive, not interactive. A parent who reads to their child can ask questions about the story, point to a word and ask their child what it is — and provide help as needed. There is MUCH greater potential for learning in the parent-child interaction than in the e-reader-child interaction.

The second thing I found was this page: It cites a lot of stats in favor of reading aloud to children. It’s good that from 1993 to 2007, there has been no downward trend regarding parents reading aloud to their children. However, I will be curious to see what happens in the next few years, as e-readers were not common five years ago.

Well said! I wholeheartedly agree on every point. Those who know me well know that seeing babies, toddlers, and children with e-reading devices is my BIGGEST pet peeve. I hate to think about the struggles that these overstimulated kids will have later in life. You have done a more thorough and eloquent job of explaining this issue than I’ve seen anywhere else. Bravo.

Thanks for commenting, Katie! Hopefully our opinions will be supported by research some day, but: a) even when that research is made available, I’m sure many parents will ignore it; and, b) by then a lot of kids will have been “nurtured” heavily by electronic gizmos, and like you I worry about the results. Even if the effects are “minor,” such as that such kids won’t have fond memories of bedtime reading with their parents, I think it will be too much.

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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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