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. (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:
- The child can ask questions
- The parent can enhance and change the story
- 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:
- Children are motivated to learn how to read on their own
- 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:
- It distracts from any actual reading
- The e-book is entertaining the child, whereas when a child reads a book they are entertaining themselves
- 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.